Friday, December 4, 2009

Address at the 30th Anniversary of the Partnership Between The Royal Government, Non-Governmental Organizations and the People of Cambodia 1979 – 2009

National Institute of Education, November 24, 2009


Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen!

I am delighted to be here celebrating the “30th Anniversary of the Partnership Between the Royal Government, Non-Governmental Organizations and the People of Cambodia 1979 – 2009” with Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, representatives from national and international NGOs. This event is being held while the regional and global economy are showing some signs of recovery. In spite of this encouraging trend, we must continue to pool contribution from all sources in our society, including the role of national and international NGOs, which is a major catalyst for accelerating development progress. In this sense, I think this ceremony is a great opportunity for reassessing our weaknesses and strengths, what have been done and what have not been done to allow us to set direction for more aggressive, more vibrant and more efficient implementation in the future. The exchange of dialogue on the role of NGOs in socio-economic development, prolific partnership and the proper and efficient use of fund will indeed help us fine-tune and customize our operation in order to accommodate the people’s actual needs and various national development plans and strategies, especially the National Strategic Development Plan and the Rectangular Strategy Phase II.

Along with this, today’s event will also allow us to look at our partnership development and define the strategic direction for tighter, more harmonized, and more predictable collaboration to ensure further results. These include: i) the acknowledgement of contribution and achievement of NGOs for the past 30 years (1979 – 2009) in economic restoration and development effort, ii) the reflection of experience and good partnership between the Royal Government, NGOs and the people of Cambodia, and iii) looking forward to prolific cooperation and partnership between the Royal Government, NGOs and the people of Cambodia to jointly address challenges in the next decade.

Taking this opportunity, on behalf of the Royal Government of Cambodia, I would like to show my appreciation to the organizing committee for the successful and smooth running of the event. Also, I would like to extend my profound thanks to the management and staff of both national and international NGOs as well as aid agencies and all the Cambodian people for their untiring work in the last 30 years dedicating to charitable and humanitarian work and national development. In this spirit, I am confident that national and international NGOs and stakeholders will remain committed to strengthening cooperation and partnership and playing a key role in development progress to bring about prosperity, development and harmony to Cambodia.

While we are gathering today to evaluate the progress of our partnership, I would like to bring up the history of socio-economic development after the collapse of Pol Pot Regime on 7 January 1979 and the contribution from NGOs in the last 30 years as follows:

We all know that the Pol Pot Regime toppled the Khmer Republic Regime on 17 April 1975 and forced the people to desert Phnom Penh. The people became slaves and prisoners of wall-less prison. Millions died of hunger, inadequate health care, forced labor, and massacre. After 7 January 1979, Cambodia was left with nothing from the last regime, contrary to the Lun Nol’s Khmer Republic Regime which inherited abundant resources from the People’s Socialist Community. Left behind by the Pol Pot Regime were the separation of family members, ruins, death of millions of people, destruction of economic infrastructure, and countless residual problems.

In the Pol Pot Regime, people worked and ate collectively. There were no longer private property, currency, market, relationship, trade and whatsoever. The only workplace was rice field, more specifically, people had to work extremely hard in exchange of little food while their rights and ownership were stripped. People owned nothing ranging from agricultural means and equipments, houses, utilities to spoons, bowls, plates and cooking utensils. Their only property was the clothes they wear. The outcome of their hard work was managed by the “Organization”.

Moreover, factories, enterprises, commercial buildings, schools, pagodas, governmental institutions were closed or destroyed. The authority at that time did not allow the circulation of currency and trade transaction. We can call the regime “Slavery Era” in which the “Organization” was the lord and the people were the slave. Everyone live with the anticipation of their execution or death by hunger and illness.

During the Pol Pot Regime, everyone heard the word “Organization” but they did not know what this “Organization” referred to. The higher authority used the word “Organization” to suppress their subordinates and threaten the people, especially those accused of being enemy. The people were frightened and doubtful of the word “Organization”, especially the phrase “Organization called someone to go to study” as those who went to study would never return or disappeared forever. The disappearance meant those who went to study had been killed by the “Organization”. The word “Organization” indeed refers to the organization structure of the military and politics of the Pol Pot Regime. What this organization did contradict the people’s wishes, hence it goes against democracy, and against the respect of human right and dignity. Therefore, the regime did not last long and finally collapsed because the mass killings and lost the support from its people, even their own cadre members.

January 7th, 1979 was the last day of Pol Pot regime, and a new day of victory for the nation and Cambodian people. That’s why Cambodian people across the country consider the January 7th was the big historic victory day as well as their second birthday. After the liberation, the United National Front for Liberation and Salvation of Kampuchea had fulfilled its duties in saving people lives, prevented the return of genocidal regime, defended national territories , resolved the starvation for its people, and facilitated the repatriation and family reunion to their homeland. The other demanding duty was to set up the administrative authorities at all levels, all sectors in order to lead the country-we did not even have a village chief at that time. In such difficult situation, The People’s Republic of Kampuchea was established and the new regime had strong hope and commitment to defense and reconstruct Cambodia of all sectors in order to help people to live in peace and development.

At that time, starvation had threatened people’s lives, not at a single family, a village, a commune, a district or a province, but the entire country. So the urgent task for us was to raise people’ standard of living back to normalcy and stability. Along the small streets, big streets, at cities urban and rural areas across the country we met people with similar condition, we met crowds of people walked from place to place with tired, no energy, thin, pale and hopelessness conditions. People walked with old clothes, some even without shoes, carried their little bag of belongings from Pol Pot’s controlled areas with their surviving children moving toward their homeland for family reunion.

In summary, the collapsed of Pol Pot’s genocidal regime on January 7th 1979 led to new pathway for politics, economy, social and culture for Cambodia. Thereafter, Cambodian people started their new journey of life, raised their living standard, rebuild the economy and society of all sectors. We started from nothing, from the hill of ashes where almost everything were destroyed- physically and morally. For the last 30 years, after the collapsed of Pol Pot’s genocidal regime, our motherland had gone through complexities, obstacles- politically and economically. The re-establishment of new administrative authority from nothing was challenging in all sectors, including human resources and materials. In such situation, we noticed that many NGOs arrived, especially after 1979 and started implement many activities with the government to help resolve many problems with the government, mainly in food supplies and social affairs, while some other developed countries closed their eyes for the suffering of Cambodian people and also put pressure on politics and economic embargo to the country and Cambodian people.

In order to rescue the people out of starvation across the country and to re-establish administrative authority, we used total measures to tackle those problems. We did not have materials and budget at all, except some foods we collected from Pol Pot, we distributed some foods to our armed forces and state’s institutions and the rest for the people.

In such difficult situation, the support from the Vietnamese people was very valuable. The Vietnamese government immediately provided foods, medicines and other equipments to Cambodian people who were lack of everything. Later on, in 1980, Laos, Soviet Union, India and other INGOs also provided urgent charitable aids to Cambodia, in addition to existing charitable aids from the government and Vietnamese people.

From 1979 to 1980, we had fifteen INGOs from Western countries that fund raised more than US$100 million for its operational activities to tackle pressing problems in Cambodia. The most important priority at that time was to solve hunger problem, because crops and food warehouses were completely destroyed by the Khmer Rouge when they chased out people from cities and urban areas to rural areas. In such circumstance, NGOs were mainly focused on humanitarian activities rather than political affairs.

During that phase, NGOs were strongly focused on two important priorities: salvation/support and reconstruction, their activities such as supplied of foods, medicines, rice and vegetable seeds, fertilizers, wells, vaccination of animals, tools for repairing agricultural machines, spare parts for repairing textile factory, soap factory, school materials, equipments for school buildings, production of chalks, …bridges, equipments for pediatric hospital, orphanages and others.

Remarkably, NGOs played important role as key messengers to the outside world by sharing about the sufferings of Cambodian people when Cambodia was isolated by politics and economy embargo from other western countries.

With strong determination and commitment of all Cambodian people, together with supports from foreign friends and NGOs, we made good progress in reducing hunger problem. Also despite the natural disaster in 1979-1980, the result of our food production was satisfactory which helped us to end hunger problem historically that left over by Pol Pot’s regime and set foundation for our development today.

The presence of NGOs started with programs and activities responded to the real needs of Cambodian people as well as the government wants The key results were shown on the improvement of social affairs and public health.

As a matter of fact, after the collapsed of Pol Pot’s regime, the serious problem we faced and needed immediate response was social affairs- orphanages, elderly people, people with disabilities, homeless people and windows who have children, without labor force support. Based on statistics in 1981, we had 207,105 orphans, out of which 6,242 orphans lived in 34 orphanage centers and other 200,863 orphans lived with their relatives, aunts, uncles, their parent’s friends and kind families. These figures did not include orphans who lost either a mother or a father.

In fact, these big social problems could not be tackled by the government of People’s Republic of Kampuchea alone within the short of period of time. Thus, the joint activities between the government and its people and INGOs were a must. Together, we were able to tackle the problems successfully with great pride. More importantly, with the support of local authorities, foreign friends of Cambodia and INGOs, all orphanage centers were able to provide vocational training skills to orphans such as sewing, embroidery, weaving, carpentry, mechanics and farming.etc. Through those trainings we could confirm that none of the orphans who lived in orphanage centers were illiterate, except orphans who have neurological disorder. Moreover, most of those orphans completed lower-secondary education and vocational training skills. Orphans who lived with their relatives could also attend schools and most of them attained good education. In summary, we noted that there was the highest number of orphan in our new society compared to the previous regimes, however, in general none of those orphans were homeless or engaged in crime.

Along with this, the work on health sector at that time has started from the scratch. We had to face with many difficulties in re-organizing the health system. Although we have re-organized the hospitals we are lack of materials, equipments, medicines and managers and doctors …etc. At the same time, there were a lot of patients with different types and the most serious case 3 was malaria and malnutrition. In order to solve this problem, friend countries had continually donated, especially since the 1980s we had received the health donation from Soviet Union, India and other Socialist Countries and we had also received more aid from international organizations on which the support from the International Red Cross and UNICEF and some other countries in emergency aid program for Cambodia, including the teams of medical doctors to work in a number of provincial hospitals. Moreover, there were international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and a number of countries have directly helped in building and operating a number of hospitals such as French Aid Organization, World Vision, Swiss Red Cross, Sweden and France…etc. In fact, the aid for health sector at that time was for the necessity and paid more attention to the salvation and restoration of people’s health, but failed to focus more on the capacity and institutional building and other development projects.

The contribution above has continued, but until 1989 the presence of the NGOs had not been more developed yet. Political and economic development in between 1988 and 1991 in Cambodia had considerably contributed to the creation and increase of presence of the NGOs in Cambodia. In 1988 and 1991, there were three main events in Cambodia: (1) the start of peace seeking process through the meeting between Sihanouk and Hun Sen and other subsequent meetings, (2) the withdrawal of Vietnamese troops from Cambodia, and (3) the internal reform, especially the process of liberalization towards market economy. These three significant events have contributed significantly to the creation of NGOs in Cambodia. The assistance program of the NGOs to Cambodia has increased double at that time and expanded its scope and targeted areas.

At the mean time, programs of NGOs have been diverted from the short-term to long-term activities. As for the employees of the NGOs have also acted freely in provinces/cities in training government officials and have initiated development projects activities in communes and improve the participation of the local people to be the owner for their development projects.

It should be noted that the development situation of Cambodia have been different in some stages according to the phases of history in between 1989 and 1993 and from 1993 to the present time. In this regard, the progress of NGOs in this new situation is also divided into continuous stages according to the historical evolution. In fact, in 1989 we had about 40 NGOs and in the year 2003 there were more than 300 international agencies and about 20 local NGOs were set up with programs and working activities in the field of human rights, women’s welfare, education and rural development. The presence of international NGOs and the establishment of local NGOs happened at the time of positive signal and hope about peace settlement for Cambodia and the preparation for assembly election organized by UNTAC.

The noticeable issue at that time was the positive progress of peace negotiation process among all rival factions. At that time NGOs that acted in the refugee camps along the border and inside Cambodia had exchanged studies tour in order to study about how to prepare to repatriate Cambodian people living along the border back to the country and had them integrated into the national fold. As a result, NGOs in the border and local NGOs had played significant roles in coordinating the integration of 250, 00 people who were living along the border to come and settle down in Cambodia after the Paris Peace Agreement.

On the other hand, after the Paris Peace Agreement and during the UNTAC period, a lot of NGOs had been created and most of them were created by Cambodian people living abroad and returned back to Cambodia to participate in restoring and rebuilding the nation. Of course, this movement brought back the resources, skills and experiences for Cambodia. However, this movement brought about the increase in many NGOs because of the availability of funds and donors at that time to implement their programs without consulting with the government.

We have noted that in general NGOs have particularly contributed to achieve considerable results in the work of social development and improvement of Cambodia’s prestige in international arena through various programs such as demining, improving gender and women. The valuable contribution of the Cambodian NGOs have been reflected through the active participation in many activities such as preparing the plan of action, and preparing Cambodian women to attend the international conference on women in Beijing in 1996 and the opinion fighting campaign of Cambodian NGOs related to the Ottawa Agreement on Prohibition of Mine Plantation, which became the international law in 1999…etc.

Based on the experiences so far, especially during the decades of 1980s and early 1990s, we have observed that NGOs had tried their best to work hard in partnership with the government. In fact, the Royal Government and NGOs had common objectives which were to enhance the humanitarian principles, respect of human rights and dignity through democracy and socio-economic development. For this objective, partnership between government and NGOs is truly important. Working together for 30 years has allowed us to find many positives points on partnership between government and NGOs, which we all have to pay high attention to for implementation or keeping as a lesson learnt in implementing programs in the future. We have a lot of examples about the good implementation as a partner between the Royal Government and NGOs in many important sectors such as education, health, governance, agriculture and others. For instance, National Education Partnership Organization established in 2000 has contributed significantly in the discussion between the Royal Government and the NGOs on education, research and report publication. MediCam organization, which consists of 121 organizations of the members of organizations in the health sector, has essentially participated in various formal meetings related to the issue of health through which it provided opportunities for NGOs to share in constructing policy in implementing health reform since 1996. Moreover, many other NGOs have been actively working in partnership with the Ministry of Interior in the program of decentralization and de-concentration…etc.

Therefore, there is not doubt that during this new stage, partnership between government, NGOs and people of Cambodia are still crucial for the development of Cambodia. In fact, roles of the NGOs have been evolved in many phases, which include providing aid and salvage, restoring and developing the nation as well as advocacy according to the development situation of the country. Since 1979 until early 1990s, NGOs have been working in many areas such as emergency relief there occurred disaster, capacity and human resource development, human right protection, good governance, technology development, poverty reduction, health education, microfinance, sustainable natural resource management, community development, contribution to national policy formulation and reform programs…etc… Furthermore, the attendance of NGOs at international meetings and forums also significantly promote understanding of Cambodia by international community. For over the last 3 decades, we have noted that international NGOs had change activity direction from direct project implementers into organizations which provide support to and strengthen capacity of local NGOs and civil societies. This is another to-be-welcome tendency of positive change because it makes contribution to capacity building in Cambodia.

At the present, there are up to thousands of NGOs in Cambodia. Some even claimed that Cambodia is the paradise for NGOs. This raises a question about their roles in Cambodia. Indeed, for the last 3 decades along with the evolution and development of the nation, NGOs has undergone many changes both quantitatively and qualitatively. However, the achievement we have made and those positive changes have not eliminated the challenges in management and coordination of activities of NGOs in the framework of democracy and rules of law. We are aware that good democracy must entail the participation of NGOs. Nevertheless, while our democracy becomes more and more matured, NGOs must also go mature along with the system and framework.

In this conference we are together steadfastly committed to build partnership, but we also admit that we would face a number of challenges given a huge number of NGOs. Therefore, while commemorating 30th anniversary of NGOs in Cambodia, the conference shall also pay great attention to indentifying methods for future joint task as partner by ensuring that all activities and cooperation of NGOs will be conducted in a framework which is transparent, accountable and highly responsible in conformity to the principle of democracy and rule of law and provide maximum benefits to Cambodian people and the whole society. In this spirit, I am of the view that now is a very appropriate time for the government to have “Law on NGOs and Association” in effect as inscribed in the “Rectangular Strategy-Phase II”.

For future partnership, I contend that we are obliged to sharpen our attention to some key dimensions especially building capacity of human resource and institution as well as increasing efficiency of program implementation and grant fund utilization of NGOs who are key elements for socio-economic development and poverty reduction of our people. In this regard, I would like to provide ministry/institutions, authorities of all level and NGOs a number of recommendations to cooperatively center attention to priority goals for short-term and mid-term as follows:

1. Building capacity and raising professional qualification of NGOs through strengthening capacity of institution and personnel and good understanding of law and regulation especially strict adhering to code of conduct and dignity as true coordinator and as service provider to beneficiaries.

2. Increase cooperation for implementing programs by aligning with national development programs through information sharing, discussion for exchanging ideas, division of role and responsibility and participating necessary activities aiming at ensuring those development programs be responsive to real need of the people and help ease the burden of the government.

3. Increase the responsibility and efficiency of fund management before donor, beneficiaries and competence authorities particularly through preparation and dissemination of activity and financial report that reveals efficacy of fund used for project implementation. In this connection, a monitoring and evaluation mechanism shall be established with participation from relevant ministries/institutions especially the Ministry of Interior, local authorities and NGOs themselves in order to review, discuss and evaluate efficiency of grant usage of NGOs as required and regularly.

4. Establishing national and sub-national forum between the government and NGOs. So far we have mechanism for some regular meetings particular at provincial level viz. provincial cabinet and NGOs. In this sense, I would like to request this kind of mechanism be extended to sub-national level to review and discuss progress and contribution of NGOs to development works and strengthen partnership. Along with, the Ministry of Interior should consider creation of forum or a mechanism allowing ministry and NGOs chance to review and discuss development works and bolster partnership.

5. Adhering to the principle of partnership in executing initiatives or programs by giving great attention to the following points:

1) Providing appropriate solutions as demanded by the community and beneficiaries by checking and ensuring that any initiatives or programs of the NGOs share long-term vision and goal that are common or similar to those of the government. Furthermore, means and implementation activities shall be agreed by ministries/institution concerned especially local authorities and provide solution to concrete demand and concern.

2) Promoting the participation of partners in planning and implementing initiatives by reviewing and ascertaining that initiatives and programs of NGOs would be prepared with support and involvement of ministries/institutions concerned especially local authorities as partner with clear division of respective role and responsibility of NGOs and partners as well as demonstrate possible engagement of partner concerned in project monitoring and evaluation.

3) Showing counterpart’s good will for more cooperation by reviewing and ensuring that initiatives and programs of NGOs entail open communication mechanism between all partners with mutual respect.

4) Acknowledging and promoting participation of beneficiaries in any decision making process relating to planning, project implementation and ensuring facilitating mechanism for communication channel between beneficiaries and all partners and giving them opportunity to participate directly project implementation.

I believe that Your Excellencies, ladies, and gentlemen who are the representatives of NGOs will consider the above mentioned recommendations and to try further to increase partnership between the RGC and NGOs and the people of Cambodia aiming at achieving development and poverty reduction according to the National Strategic Development Program and various other reform programs of the RGC.

Before ending my remark, on behalf of the RGC I would like to once again praise Your Excellencies, Lok Chumteav, ladies, and gentlemen who are leaders, and officials of the national and international NGOs as well as development partners and friend countries for joining with the government and people of Cambodia in carrying out humanitarian work and achieving successful and proud outcomes, especially with regard to socio-economic development and poverty reduction during the last 30 years. The RGC very much looking to the humanity spirit of NGOs and the firm and effective partnership with all relevant stakeholders in reducing people’s poverty and promoting national development on a sustainable path within the framework of democracy and state of law with transparency, accountability, and high sense of responsibility for the next 30 years.

Finally, I wish Your Excellencies, ladies, and gentlemen with Four Gems of Buddhist Blessing.

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