Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my great honor and pleasure to greet you all here in Cambodia. We are happy that you have come to Cambodia to participate in the 3rd ASEAN Ministers Meeting on Rural Development and Poverty Eradication. I am certain that you will enjoy the peace and tranquility that we have worked very hard to ensure here in Cambodia. In this atmosphere of security, you can fully experience and savor the invaluable legacy of Cambodia: the great architecture, natural beauty and socio-cultural diversity – all in the land of the Angkor!
Peace and Security: the Foundation of Development
Peace and security is a concern that weighs heavily upon us these days. In our preparations for the ASEAN and related Summits we had to overcome serious difficulties to ensure the security for all the delegates. Attending the Summits were all the ASEAN Leaders, plus the Chiefs of China, Japan, South Korea and South Africa. The President of the Asian Development Bank was also present. In addition, all these Leaders were, of course, accompanied by their senior officials. So you can imagine how concerned we were about ensuring security. Looking back now, the meetings were held successfully, and there was not a single incident. I am thankful for that achievement.
I mention this because it is so clear that no effort to achieve rural development and poverty alleviation can succeed in an atmosphere of war and insecurity. Indeed, peace is the foundation of development and progress. Our experience here in Cambodia and in fact, all across ASEAN attests to the need to ensure security and stability so that the measures required for sustainable prosperity can be put in place.
The Synergy between Peace and Development
Of course, peace and development go hand in hand. One cannot be sustained without promoting the other. With survival uppermost in the concerns of the hungry, peace and insecurity is but a secondary concern. On the other hand, development that engenders enmity, greed and inequity is not sustainable and does not promote lasting peace. Indeed, the goal of governance is a pragmatic synergy between peace and development. We all seek to achieve a pace of economic growth rapid and adequate enough to be shared across society. Such growth will in turn generate broad-based support necessary for the difficult choices and steps that will enable further prosperity and peace for all.
I believe that this is the philosophy that underlies the ASEAN’s Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI), which provides a framework for regional cooperation through which the more developed ASEAN members and the ASEAN’s development partners could help those member countries that most need assistance, thus fulfilling the principle where to “prosper thy neighbor” is to “prosper ASEAN”.
At the 8th ASEAN Summit, I proposed that as part of the Phnom Penh Agenda, ASEAN will further strengthen the IAI through active collaboration with the Greater Mekong Subregion Program. We all agree that the disparity in the economic status among ASEAN members is a major impediment to full regional peace and economic integration. Therefore, concerted efforts in promoting development in the GMS will greatly contribute to the resolution of the gaps among the ASEAN economies. Moreover, the GMS Program has proven to be an effective framework for resource mobilization, particularly from international financial institutions such as the Asian Development Bank.
Cambodia’s Efforts to Spur Rural and National Development
We proudly welcome you all to Cambodia as our country is poised for prosperity. Over the past several years Cambodia has enjoyed stability, peace and economic growth denied to Cambodians for more than two decades of war and isolation. In the atmosphere of peace, the Royal Government has rapidly established an atmosphere of diplomatic openness, investment attractiveness and liberal trade.
In the second term of the Royal Government, we have firmly implemented the “Triangle Strategy,” as our political platform and development thrust. The strategy envisages a wide-ranging, long-term reform agenda with three main intertwined objectives: (i) ensure and maintain peace, stability and security for the nation and its people; (ii) quickly normalize Cambodia’s relations with external partners and gradually but steadily integrate the economy into the region and the world; and (iii) promote the development of Cambodia and reduce poverty based on the favorable environment resulting from the implementation of the first two strategies.
The results of the hard work that has been exerted you can see around you in Cambodia today. Economic growth has been maintained at the high average of 7% while other countries in the region and the world continue to face difficulties. Inflation has been constrained at close to zero and the exchange rate has remained firm. Overall, macroeconomic management targets have been achieved with satisfactory results. In the implementation of the first Socio-Economic Development Plan, we reduced the incidence of poverty from 39% to 36%. We are moving forward with resolve and strong commitment in reforms in all sectors. The ultimate goal is to reduce, by half, the incidence of poverty within 15-20 years.
Our clear vision and commitment to effective performance has earned much support from our development partners. In June 2002, for the first time, the annual meeting of the Consultative Group (CG) of Donors was held in Phnom Penh. In the meeting, the international community pledged more than US$600 million for development and poverty reduction in Cambodia.
Strategies for Poverty Reduction
Although we have achieved substantial progress, the Royal Government of Cambodia is aware of the serious situation where poverty is still widespread in the country. We consider the resolution of poverty the nation’s top priority, to be achieved through accelerated growth, improvement in expenditures of government resources and the improvement in social development. Moreover, as more than 80% of Cambodian people and 90% of the poor families live in the rural areas, the RGC’s strategy for poverty reduction is focused and concentrated on rural development.
The Royal Government of Cambodia has set out a rural development program focusing on the factors that determine the livelihoods of poor people living in the rural areas, such as the building of rural roads, basic health care and hygiene, the supply of clean water, education and training, community development, family farm plots and rural finance schemes such as seed and fertilized distribution, rice banks, support for small and medium enterprises and improvement in extension and information dissemination to reach the villages. The RGC’s strategies for rural development have the following objectives:
- Launch the decentralized system of financial planning and implementation of rural development projects and programs;
- Facilitate diversified rural development focusing on key regions and sectors;
- Promote discussion and joint actions at all levels of administration, among ministries-institutions, and between ministries-institutions and civil society to generate improved work plans and effective collaboration; and
- Optimize use of the country’s comparative advantage and mobilize capacity available in national and local institutions to help enhance rural development.
On 29 July 2002, the Royal Government launched the Second Socio-Economic Development Plan, 2001-2005. The overall thrust of the SEDP2 is the reduction of poverty. In addition, we are now finalizing the National Poverty Reduction Strategy (NPRS), which provides more details than SEDP2 for the attainment of accelerated development and poverty reduction in Cambodia.
Building and Strengthening Our Foundations As I have mentioned earlier, as an important pillar of the poverty reduction strategy the Royal Government of Cambodia has given top priority to building the foundations of rural development and providing opportunities for the poor. Based on this strategy, since 1996 the Royal Government has been implementing an extensive program of decentralization and deconcentration. This experience has proven to be very positive and progressive and has been adopted as a national policy and program. Commune elections were conducted early this year, resulting in the establishment of 1,621 Commune Councils across the Kingdom. A commune budget has been created to support the operations of the Commune Councils. Moreover, a National Committee to Support the Communes has been established to implement the Law on Commune Administration and the Decentralization Policy.
Moreover, the Government has also set up a Commune Fund for local development consisting of block grants from the government, tax and non-tax revenues and donor or international organizations assistance. The Commune Fund will finance local development and public services. Supporting the communes to carry out their own local development will reduce the burden on the national government and help to further strengthen the ownership of the local development programs by the local people themselves. In fact, the Ministries cannot and should not try to do everything. Furthermore, whatever the communes and the people can undertake themselves involves the commitment of the people — which is crucial for ensuring ownership and sustainability in promoting development.
Toward National and International Unity and Peace. In the wake of the continuing wars and increase in terrible terrorist acts of the past year, humankind is confronted with a sobering realization. No nation can afford to be complacent in a world of plenty among a few and deprivation suffered by many. The contrasts are stark and painful, providing fertile ground for enmity, greed, and envy. Constructive engagement is key to the building of national, regional and international peace. In this spirit, it is my firm conviction that as we engage in these constructive frameworks, we are also building the structures of peace, stability, progress and prosperity. That is why we have welcomed you all to Cambodia not only as visitors, but as friends and brothers.
Finally, on behalf of the Royal Government of Cambodia I wish you all the Five Gems of Buddhist Blessings; and consider the ASEAN Ministers Meeting on Rural Development and Poverty Eradication a great success!