Saturday, July 11, 2009

Address at the Closing of National Forum on "Food Security and Nutrition: Social Safety Nets in Cambodia"

Inter-Continental Hotel, July 7th, 2009

- Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
- Distinguished National and International Guests!

Today, it is my great honor and pleasure to be here in the closing of this important National Forum on “Food Security and Nutrition: Social Safety Nets in Cambodia”. Taking this opportunity, I would like to commend the Council for Agricultural and Rural Development for working with related ministries/institutions, development partners especially the World Bank and World Food Program to organize this national forum. Along with this, I highly appreciate Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen for taking your time to attend this two-day event. This forum is held at the right and vital time, which is a response to the Royal Government’s priority policy and to the global financial and economic crises.

Along with this, I would like to thank the management and all level of officials of the Council for Agricultural and Rural Development, development partners, and all participants for having exchanged insightful ideas on agricultural and rural development and on future direction. In particular, the development partners’ support either in terms of cooperative financing or material, financial and technical support have been instrumental in our effort to rehabilitate and development agricultural and rural sector in Cambodia in order to improve agricultural productivity, diversify agricultural products, and accelerate land, fisheries and forestry reforms by systematically addressing agricultural techniques, rural infrastructure, such as roads, irrigation and clean water systems, loan market and export processing. Through this, I think that agricultural development is the core of rural economy which acts as the foundation for strengthening and sustaining growth, and accelerating poverty reduction.

I recall that in previous conferences and forums, I have given some recommendations to address the negative impacts of the global economic and financial crises on Cambodia. Those include macro-economic policies which were designed to ensure macro-economic stability and conduciveness for growth through the implementation of pro-growth financial policy, flexible monetary policy, and vigorous implementation of systematic reform to improve domestic investment and business climate to regain confidence from the public, attract investment from both domestic and foreign sources, especially to facilitate trade and promote fast-yielding economic activities. Without a doubt, if the Royal Government fails to take measure appropriately and on time, the effect of the global economic and financial crises will be the cause of the downfall of Cambodia’s financial system and economy.

We have closely and attentively observed the development of the global economic crisis which is producing a severe negative impact on Cambodia’s economy. What matter most is that last year’s economic challenges cannot deter Cambodia from its long-standing path of multi-party democracy. In particular, under difficult economic circumstance, the Royal Government was brave enough and determined to held successfully the election to select councils for the capital, provinces, municipalities and districts which was deemed fair, free, and just by national and international organizations. The storm of the global financial crisis is indeed amplifying its effects on the world economy and Cambodia might suffer from this effect in the medium term.

The Royal Government is well aware of this matter and is issuing various complementary, interconnected and flexible measures to prevent and relieve the negative impacts produced by the global financial crisis on Cambodia’s financial system, economy and society.

The Royal Government is willing and determined to resolve various negative impacts originating from the global economic and financial crisis. Through this, the Royal Government has firmly implement the policy to sustain its economy, to build social safety net to support vulnerable groups through the implementation of various measures such as food, emergency assistance, social allowance, special support fund, vocational training.

The Royal Government takes the global economic and financial crisis as a lesson, an experience and an opportunity by figuring out strategic means and selecting policies and mechanisms to accelerate socio-economic development. In this purpose, the Royal Government has been actively strengthening and expanding its collaboration with development partners, the private sector, and the civil society to improve people’s living standard, speed up poverty reduction and ensure food security as stipulated in the national development strategy of the Royal Government of the 4th Legislature of the National Assembly.

In this context, the strengthening of “Social Safety System” for rescuing and supporting vulnerable groups is the Royal Government’s major strategy to tackle the negative impact and risks arising from the global economic crisis. Although, we are implementing deepened and comprehensive reform measures to realize Cambodia’s social-economic development target in the long run but we cannot afford to ignore risks and challenges arising from global warming and pandemic especially the outbreak of swine flu (H1N1) which is taking root around the world. These represent additional burden of the Royal Government and require us to take preventative measures and tackle under all circumstances.

In sum, social safety net or social protection is not a new issue for the Cambodian society. Indeed, the traditional social safety net has started and taken deep root in the Khmer’s culture for a very long time ago, particularly in the forms of food sharing and providing mutual support among neighbors and communities in time of emergencies, and during various types of ceremony and this culture still continue to exist until now. Generally, in the Cambodian society, at pagodas, monks play significant roles as important mechanism in implementing an efficient social safety net, aiming at joining with the Royal Government in educating and providing support in social affairs for poor people, which include providing food supply and temporary shelters to the vulnerable people, elders, handicapped and so on. On the other hand, this culture of sharing has been playing an important role as an unofficial social safety net, which we have always observed that rich people, businessmen, and officials of the Royal Government alike have always given out their personal capital to sponsor social affairs for those people in need. In addition, the Cambodian Red Cross, a fundamental humanitarian agency in the society, is also playing an important role as the mechanism of a major official social safety net in carrying out the unconditional culture of sharing for the cause of humanitarian acts, the spirit of living with the most vulnerable people at all time and places without discriminating against social classes, color, sex, religious belief, and political tendency.

At the same time, the Royal Government has initiated the social safety net in order to help the poor, homeless, victims of human trafficking, and victims of natural disasters in line with the spirit of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia and the Rectangular Strategy- Phase II, which describes the government’s intervention in social affairs such as the creation of employment opportunity, the provision of emergency aid to people, especially in time of natural disasters, the expansion of rehabilitation program for disables, elders, orphans, female victims, homeless, veterans and their families…etc. Furthermore, the Royal Government continues to strengthen good governance in providing social safety service through institutional enhancement and cooperation with development partners, including further expansion of social services and comprehensive rescue program. In order to effectively respond to the social protection intervention, the Royal Government will continue to pay high attention on strengthening firm enforcement of law and critical regulations such Labor Law, Insurance Law, Law on Social Security, Sub-Degree on the Creation of Social Security-National Fund for civil servants.

To achieve the above mentioned goal, I would like to request all concerned ministries/institutions to strengthen cooperation, especially improving relationship with development partners, private sectors, and relevant institutions. In addition, in agriculture sector and rural development, we are required to continue to strengthen facilitative mechanism, cooperation and good dialogue among various national and sub-national ministries and agencies, especially, dialogues between leaders and civil servants of ministries and agencies at all level to ensure that development programs are being timely and effectively prepared and carried out; and resources, which are provided by development partners, are being used with transparency, accountability and timely responding to the needs of the people.

At the same time, I acknowledge that the efficient state’s intervention on social affairs through social safety net or social protection require coordination and closer and inter-connected cooperation among relevant stakeholders, because, projects and programs for social assistance have been separately implemented by respective ministries, institutions and development partners. In this regard, The Council for Agriculture and Rural Development will play the important role in facilitating and mobilizing resources to successfully apply the social safety net in Cambodia with effectiveness and efficiency.

It should be noted that during the Third Legislature, the Royal Government has accomplished proud achievements in saving and providing vocational training to the homeless women and children, and the victims of human trafficking, families affected by disasters and the handicapped to be employed with personal profession. The Royal Government has been firmly implementing the labor law and various international conventions on the roles of the labor unions to truly ensure the rights and interest of the workers, employees and employers. The Royal Government has cooperated with the national and international organizations and various institutions to enhance working opportunities, and to reduce the vulnerability of the poor. Along with this, the Royal Government has improved and strengthened social safety net for ex-civil servants as well as veterans through the increase of salary and other allowances. At the same time, the Royal Government has given priority on the improvement of the working conditions of workers and employees in order to continue promoting the implementation of social safety net policy, laws on social security regime, implementation of pension allowance scheme for the disables and the people who are in burden, ensuring that all employees receive the insurance for work related accidents. Moreover, the Royal Government will continue to strengthen the support for the handicapped and veteran families, who have sacrificed their lives for the nation. Along with that, the Royal Government will continue supporting the militant and retired civil servants through the implementation of a pension system, which is more comprehensive by promoting the enforcement of the National Fund and Social Security.

Once again, I would like to encourage the Council for Agricultural and Rural Development to actively and intensively continue implementing its duties in coordinating with this social safety net system by further closely cooperating with relevant ministries/institutions at all levels and all development partners in order to look for the possibility of preparing a joint social safety system strategy with high efficiency.

Taking this opportunity, I would like to appeal to the related ministries/institutions and all development partners to take the outputs and recommendations, which are the fruit of this forum, into consideration to become a practical implementation. Along with that, I would like all development partners to continue practicing the good culture of closer cooperation with the Royal Government and providing further support to Cambodia in expanding the programs and implementing social safety net projects, aiming to help the poor and vulnerable in the society by intervening and responding to the crisis timely, objectively and effectively.

Finally, before closing the “National Forum on Food Security and Nutrition under the Theme of Social Safety Nets in Cambodia”, I would like to wish Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, Distinguished National and International Guests, and the Whole Forum a great success with 4 Gems of Buddhist blessings: Longevity, Nobility, Health and Strength.

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