Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am greatly honored and pleased to address the opening of this Second East Asia and Pacific Regional Conference on Poverty Reduction Strategies. On behalf of the Royal Government of Cambodia, I warmly welcome all the distinguished delegates and participants from Indonesia, Lao PDR, Mongolia, Timor Leste and Viet Nam, and the Observers from Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea and Sri Lanka to the wonderful land of Angkor!
The Kingdom of Cambodia is proud and honored to host this important conference. This honor reflects our sincere efforts to address and integrate poverty issues into the mainstream of national, regional and international affairs. Thus, I would like to thank the ADB, IMF, UNDP and the World Bank for organizing this conference, enabling the gathering for exchange and dialogue on tackling the poverty among people from Governments, Parliaments, Civil Society, Academic and Research Institutions, Private Sector and the Representatives of external partners.
I am certain that this conference will enable us an excellent opportunity to review and exchange on the development of poverty reduction strategies in East Asia countries and identify obstacles and challenges our region faces in designing and implementing our strategies and derive lessons. Our conference will also provide us with a forum to draw lessons to help formulate a shared view of next steps for each country and for replication in other developing countries.
Moreover, I warmly welcome the recent regional efforts in engendering the poverty reduction strategies. I have also been informed about the 2nd Regional Workshop on Gender and PRS held in Seam Reap last month, a follow up of the 1st Hanoi Workshop. I hope that the outputs from these previous meetings are considered in this conference.
Please allow me to share with all of you some background on Cambodia’s own efforts and experience in preparing and implementing the NPRS.
As you know, Cambodia is not the only country that has undergone the PRSP process. Over the last few years, the PRSP has emerged as an important aspect of the process of ensuring that there is consistency and synergy between the poverty alleviation programs of Governments and its development partners, both national as well as international. In Cambodia, we took the process of formulating the NPRS very seriously. We worked hard to ensure a fully open and participatory process, enabling all sectors of society to join in the discussions and consultations. There were at least five national workshops on the NPRS, as well as many more sectoral and technical meetings and consultations.
Indeed, poverty reduction strategies go to the heart of the development thrust of our government. For the Royal Government of Cambodia, the war on poverty is not just a policy but a passion. Poverty reduction defines and drives the substance, the content, the heart and soul of our entire strategy of Government. Poverty reduction is not just a requirement of social justice, an action of conscience, but also pragmatic economic management.
The biggest challenge faced by the Royal Government in its quest for development is to reduce poverty and improve the quality of life of the Cambodian people. The Royal Government is fully conscious of the burden of poverty and considers such a heavy cost to the economy and society. This burden is socially destructive and morally unacceptable. Therefore, based on this philosophy, the Royal Government has embarked on the NPRS, which has the following key elements:
(i) Strengthening peace, security, stability and social order through measures aimed at improving the rule of law and the protection of human rights and democracy, enabling a favorable political and security environment for long-term sustainable development;
(ii) Ensuring high, sustainable growth at 6%-7% over the long run;
(ii) The equitable distribution of the fruits of growth between the rich and the poor, between the urban and the rural and between males and females, and
(iii) Ensuring the sustainable use and management of our environment and natural resources.
From the broad and comprehensive strategy in the NPRS, we have set out and implemented a package of consistent, complementary and reinforcing policies based on effective agendas, those include: creating opportunities, ensuring security, strengthening capacity and empowerment. In the process of implementation, we have gradually fine-tuned those policies into a national poverty reduction strategy with the following pillars:
(1) Maintaining macroeconomic stability to foster broad-based sustainable economic growth, with the private sector playing the leading role;
(2) Enhancing rural livelihoods by improving the access of the poor to basic services, focusing on implementation of policies, programs and concrete measures to increase the income of people living in the rural areas. Those include: land reform and policies on water, agriculture, forestry and fishery as well as other projects in construction and maintenance of rural transport infrastructure;
(3) Creating employment opportunities, focusing on creation of jobs and other businesses through the development of private sector, promoting export, promoting development of light, medium and processing manufacturing and industries, and the expansion of tourism;
(4) Improving the capacity of people, focusing on improvement in education, health care and nutrition;
(5) Strengthening institutions and improving the governance environment through effective implementation of the Governance Action Plan;
(6) Reducing social vulnerability and strengthening participation, and dealing with other key issues including disaster management especially floods and droughts, clearance of mines inherited from wars, management of the disabled and those affected by AIDS, orphans, street children, the homeless, and food insecurity;
(7) Improving gender equity, focusing on reducing the gender gap in all aspects of life; and
(8) Giving priority to demographics and population through reproductive health programs, family planning for the poor and increasing of primary education enrolment rate for the poor, and finally job opportunities for the rural poor.
Indeed, in our efforts to spur and manage national development over the past decade, we have faced many challenges. However, with our strong determination we have overcome the challenges successfully, achieving considerable and bold results which are now having positive impacts on strengthening the pillars of the society and the culture of peace, security, safety and social order, democracy, respect of human right and people’s dignity. Indeed, we have opened up new horizon of opportunities, providing hope for the future.
Economically, we have achieved positive and encouraging results despite regional uncertainty and crisis. Through 1999-2003, the Cambodian economy grew by an average of 6.7% per annum. The exchange rate has been very stable and inflation rate maintained at below 3% while the level of international reserves has been doubled.
Cambodia, or any country, cannot solve all the problems inherited from almost three decades of destructive wars, genocide and internal conflicts in just one term of government. National recovery and growth is a long-term task. Thus, the challenge faced by the Royal Government in its third mandate is to maintain and advance the achievements that our entire nation has attained with much sacrifice and effort, in the 2nd mandate of the Royal Government. It is indeed crucial to advance all reforms so far attained and to widen and deepen their positive effects, to ensure the sustainability of development that will permanently reduce poverty among our people.
In this context, the third mandate Royal Government will vigorously continue to implement its policies, focusing on a number of priorities, of which the development of the rural economy is the key. More specifically, for rural and agricultural development the RGC shall focus on five specific strategies as follows:
First, decentralization: ensuring that democracy is firmly rooted at the grassroots levels, and which will improve the quality of public services. The participation by local people in decision-making, including planning, resource mobilization, implementation and the equitable delivery of services shall enable the people themselves to fully and effectively tackle the task of poverty reduction. Citizens are key players in the different mechanisms of decentralization.
Second, investment in rural infrastructure that support the three elements of poverty reduction:
(i) creating opportunities, (ii) ensuring peace and security, and (iii) strengthening capacity and empowerment.
Third, promote trade and economic liberalization, especially through generating employment and increasing income for the poor. However, the Royal Government is conscious that liberalization can also have undesirable side effects. Liberalization has also exposed Cambodian farmers and businesses to stiff competition with imported goods and services. Nevertheless, it is our conviction that we will need to manage the process of economic liberalization carefully so that the benefits are indeed much greater than any costs.
Fourth, strengthening the development of the private sector as a catalyst of growth and employment. To this end, our government’s policy is to tackle governance issues in order to improve management and efficiency, infrastructure, reduce transportation, and port handling and utilities costs in order to make Cambodia a competitive production center.
Fifth, development of agriculture: To use the great potential of growth and expand the base of growth that enables our vast rural areas of Cambodia to appropriately benefit from such growth.
It is my strong expectation that the points I have highlighted above will become basic sine-qua-non elements of Cambodia’s development strategies for the third mandate of the Royal Government from 2003 to 2008.
Overall, we have produced a good first NPRS for Cambodia. Indeed, we realize it is not perfect. We will further refine and improve this strategy by incorporating the NPRS into the Five Year Social Economic Development Plan. The Royal Government has initiated the linkages of the NPRS with the national budget and has thoroughly reviewed many other sectoral issues. In particular, we will further rationalize the economic and fiscal aspects of the strategy by linking it to MTEF. Moreover, we will incorporate more inputs into the strategy as governance and realities evolve, including new visions and key economic concepts obtained in the continuing consultation and review process.
Indeed, we still have a long way to go and will encounter countless obstacles. We all must recognize that we cannot solve all the issues of poverty in one day or one month or one year. What we all should remember is that the environment of security must be strengthened and development must be promoted continuously to reduce poverty and enhance rural livelihoods. Thus, this concern will remain part of the priority policy package of the RGC throughout the next term. Furthermore, in this process, the efforts by the government alone are not sufficient. Success shall require the active participation of all stakeholders and development partners, especially by the Cambodian people themselves.
The RGC shall intensify its efforts in advancing reforms in all sectors, and pay special attention to agriculture, which among most sectors has the potential for higher and broader growth, thus contributing to a bigger share of GDP. This would allow most people equitably benefit from the growth in this sector, compared to other sectors, which are narrow based and more sensitive to external shocks.
Once again, I would like to thank the World Bank, the IMF, the ADB and UNDP for organizing this conference. In addition, I deeply thank all the development partners of Cambodia and the NGOs for your close cooperation with the Government as well as with all the local authorities everywhere to contribute to the mission of poverty reduction and improvement of living of people in rural areas. In this context, I wish to call on all the development partners of Cambodia, especially the donor community and NGOs to continue your support in developing the institutional capacity of Cambodia, especially that of the provincial and municipal and commune leaders so that they will become the real actors and owners in the fight against poverty.
I am optimistic that this conference will be an excellent opportunity for all of us to assess the status of the implementation of the poverty reduction strategies in the region. Your presence here today demonstrates our shared commitment to cooperate and to together, move toward sustainable development through strategies that are pro-poor and gender-responsive.
Once again, let me wish our honorable delegates from all countries and organizations every success in this meeting. May you all have a pleasant and memorable stay in this wonderful land of Angkor!