Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen!
Today it is my great pleasure and honor to attend the ceremony marking the International Poverty Alleviation Day and the Launch of Cambodia Human Development Report 2007 on “Expanding Choices for Rural People”. I would like to take this opportunity to show my appreciation of the joint efforts which started since 1996 through the organization of seminars on“Poverty Eradication” and then the launch of the Series of Cambodia Human Development Reports for 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2007.
Taking this opportunity, I would also like to express my profound gratitude to the Ministry of Planning and UNDP for their close collaboration to prepare and develop this important and insightful report. I highly value the fruitful results produced by this government-development partner institutional cooperation. I believe that this work will further promote the implementation of the RGC’s socio-economic policies and promote human development aiming at enhancing economic development and reducing poverty for the people.
Indeed, the launch of this report matches the present situation when the Royal Government is greatly concerned with the issues related to the quality of life at rural areas and it is also the right time to focus on the ways to improve living conditions for rural poor.
In this connection, I am convinced that this gathering provides a great opportunity for government officials, development partners, national and international policy makers, practitioners, and NGOs to exchange dialogue on critical socio-economic challenges to find options and alternatives in order to improve the living standards of all Cambodian people, in particular those in rural areas by broadening their opportunities and expanding their choices.
The most important development in Cambodia during the last decade has been the change in behavior, virtue as well as perseverance and “national unification” political agenda which are important philosophies and roads to peace, development, prosperity and sustainability in Cambodia. Peace and stability have been the integral components of the “win-win” strategy of the Royal Government in integrating the former Khmer Rouge areas with the national mainstream so as to achieve lasting territorial unification. There is no doubt that without peace and stability, there will be no development and prosperity. In particular, with the strengthening in peace, stability, national unification, democracy, respect for human rights and dignity Cambodia has achieved a proudly high level of economic development, regained national and international trust, and is well prepared to move towards a brighter future.
Clearly, all alternatives selected and development stages achieved are the reflections of opportunities and positive contributions from our people in building the fundamentals for development in the next decade. Moreover, now it is the time for us to select and start implementing real difficult steps robustly and carefully with high level of confidence and determination.
At the same time, although our GDP growth averaged at 10.6% annually during 2003-2006, and peaked at 13.5% in 2005 and 10.8% in 2006, rural economy and living standards are still the worrying challenges for the Royal Government, due to the complex structural challenges and the weakness of economic infrastructure. In this sense, we need to clearly identify the different characteristics between location, natural endowment, comparative advantage, specialization, and demography in rural areas. Indeed, there are common issues facing Cambodia’s rural farmers, and there are different sets of challenges facing different regions in the country. Hence, understanding these characteristics is important. Therefore, under this framework, the Royal Government has put great efforts in the improvement of transport infrastructure; rehabilitation and construction of irrigation systems; land management reforms; loans, information and training for farmers; especially the continued improvement of structural challenges in order to increase market efficiency to improve the rural livelihoods.
To help set the tone for elaboration and discussion on the topic “Expanding Choices for Rural People”, I would like to raise a number of critical socio-economic development issues for your consideration and outline short and long term policy priorities aiming at improving the living standards and promoting human development:
1. Channeling resources to rural areas: the Royal Government clearly understands that in order to develop rural areas, we need to allocate adequate resources and make substantial investment in rural infrastructure such as roads, electricity and irrigation system infrastructure in order to stimulate rural economy. Improvement in infrastructure and access to adequate and affordable energy are necessary for economic diversification and modernization of agricultural sector. Particularly, commercially oriented farmers might try to shift from rice to other high-value crops using improved and predictable water supply if the market and roads improve alongside. Limited access and high cost electricity do not only affect the living quality of rural household, they are also constraints to production inputs and thus prohibit diversification and modernization of agriculture.
2. Fair and effective land management: land conflict is becoming pervasive owing to tremendous increase in land price during the recent years. Furthermore, experiences show that land concentration has led to landlessness and aversely affected socio-economic development and poverty reduction. Moreover, the increasing level of land concentration results in land conflict where increasing possession of land would create income inequality and possession of natural resources. Such situation would further widen income and opportunity gaps within the country.
The Royal Government is fully aware that land is the fundamental natural resource for socio-economic development and poverty reduction, especially in rural areas. In the implementation of Land Law and its land policy, the Royal Government focuses on measures to improve the land management, land distribution system and land usage to ensure economic efficiency through registering, distributing, securing land ownership, curtailing illegal land ownerships, and curbing unproductive land consolidation.
At the same time, within the framework to effectively governance of land, the Royal Government in the process of reviewing the state-owned land which is either unoccupied or controlled by companies or individuals who did not properly complied with the legal standard to use those lands in an efficient and productive manner. In order to solve this problem, the Royal Government will put more efforts to accelerate the distribution and provision of land ownership, with priority given to the most vulnerable groups, especially families who hold only a small plot of farm land. Furthermore, we will reconsider the effectiveness of unused land tax as well as restrict the provision of economic land concession aiming at ensuring the transparency and economic efficiency in land management. If a company received a concession but does not use the land according to the contract agreement, the Royal Government will consider withdrawing the land and distribute it to landless people, especially through the practice of social land concession by linking to necessary procedures to ensure efficiency and justice in the distribution and use of that land. The government will put forward and enforce a stronger legal action to curb land grabbing and land encroachment.
3. Education and human resource development: adequately educated, skilled and motivated work force is required to sustain the increasingly sophisticated Cambodian economy. Ensuring that workers possess basic literacy, numeracy, and life skills is clearly a fundamental prerequisite for a country’s socio-economic development. In Cambodia, the lack of skilled workers is already a severe constraint to accelerating growth in both rural and urban areas. Adopting and adapting to new technology is difficult and costly for an unskilled and poorly educated work force. In my view, Cambodia will have many more technical choices for upgrading its industries and skills through aggressively upgrades the education and skill levels of its prospective workers starting with the improvement in the quality and coverage of secondary school education and vocational training. With respect to education, I would like to highlight 2 important issues as follows:
Firstly, In the process of human resource development poverty and general lack of resources is the primary barrier to improving educational outcomes in Cambodia, especially in rural areas. Hence, at the early stage of rehabilitation, Cambodia has focused on getting more children into school; and at the current development stage, the government realize that there is also a need to emphasize on improving the capacity of teachers to transmit knowledge to their students, especially at the secondary level and vocational training. Thus, the Royal Government will pursue a dual strategy of supporting existing initiatives to keep poor students in school and funding institutional improvement by investing further in rural schools, teachers training colleges and vocational training school.
Secondly, improving access and quality of education at all levels will be critical to Cambodia’s future development. This requires us to implement reform to enhance the quality of education and ensure appropriate balance with increasing the quantity of education. Obviously, to increase quality of education needs improvement in necessary conditions for teaching and learning methodologies, to raise quantity of education requires more schools and more teachers, because the number of children reaching schooling year keeps increasing from year to year, and in addition to that, society and market also demand work force of high quality.
In this spirit, the government is of the clear view that strengthening education system and developing high skilled and qualified human resource are critical to enhance human resource fundamentals which enable Cambodia to compete effectively with other world counterparts who are making fast progress in era of globalization and regionalization. We also acknowledge that a well-functioning economy is the one that can effectively train, utilize and manage its intellectual resources. Hence, it is necessary to create a favorable environment to better develop, manage and employ these intellectual resources.
4. Encouraging private sector participation in rural economy development: the private sector is the driver of economic growth. Rural economy is largely based on the agricultural sector. Thus, developing the agricultural sector is fundamental for rural prosperity.
Agriculture in Cambodia is essentially in the hands of the private sector and its development, therefore, critically dependant on the private sector initiatives. The government will keep making efforts to increase investment and take some actions to reduce costs, especially in transportation and electricity to promote private sector involvement in development of rural economy.
5. Fostering broad-based and sustainable rural growth: In my view, to broaden the source of growth, Cambodia must create a sustainable and dynamic framework for the rural economy to flourish. However in order to do so, we must address all the above mentioned issues including: making concrete investment in transport and electricity infrastructures in rural areas, rural financing, institutional reforms to ensure farmers’ access to land and natural resources, private sector participations to drive the rural economy and generate employment, adequate resource allocation for education and skill development.
The Royal Government of Cambodia attaches great importance to the findings and conclusions of this National Human Development Report 2007. It is my hope that the discussions on these issues will gather constructive ideas and practical suggestions from policy makers, experts and practitioners and eventually to build realistic and practical recommendations for the Royal Government and push for action to further implement rural sector and other related reforms to build a vibrant rural economy for the benefits of Cambodia and its citizens.
For the time being, I think that it is the right time for us to make decisions and take necessary actions to lift Cambodia to a much higher level of development with shared human prosperity and stability in the long term. I am in the view that political stability combined with high economic growth rates in urban areas provided optimal conditions to accelerate the implementation of reforms needed to redress Cambodia’s high cost economy, broaden and diversify growth in agriculture and manufacturing, and generate much more abundant opportunities and choices for the rural people.
In conclusion, I would like to once again thank the Ministry of Planning and United Nation Development Program (UNDP) for preparing this thorough research document and organizing this gathering to discuss how we can foster the living standards for all Cambodians, especially those living in the rural areas.
I would like to wish the dialogue in the occasion of “International Poverty Alleviation Day” and the launch of “Cambodia Human Development Report 2007” on “Expanding Choices for Rural People” a fruitful and productive one.