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Development Research Facing Obstacles

With 30 percent of its population living under $1 per day, Cambodia needs more research for development, but experts say not enough studies have been conducted. Research has also been done mostly with donor funding, limiting the quality or scope, while the government often rejects the findings, experts say.

“Research is an important component of development,” Fred Carden, director of the evaluation unit of the International Development Research Center, based in Canada, told VOA Khmer. “Researchers are exploring important ideas in agriculture, in health, in education and many other fields. And if the ideas don’t come to policymakers, it is a big loss to the country.”

Hang Choun Naron, director-general of the Ministry of Economy and Finance, recognized the limitations of research in Cambodia derived from the lack of communication among researchers and policymakers.

“Anywhere, especially Cambodia, you know, you can’t be smarter than your boss,” he said. “If you are smarter than your boss, you will have a problem. So you have to find a way to make people accept your idea. It takes time. Communication and relationship-building are very important.”

Cambodia has some 500 researchers conducting various studies, in economy, agriculture, education, poverty and natural resources, among others Hang Choun Naron said. Among them, 100 researchers are working for five or six private and non-governmental organizations, while 400 others work for state-owned research institutions.

Researchers say they are facing challenges and constraints in conducting deep, quality research.

Kim Sedara has 16 years of experience as a researcher at the Cambodia Development and Research Institute. Researchers face financial shortages, and no package from the government, so they are highly dependent on foreign donors, he said.

“Donors generally offer [money] with advanced conditions, which limits a researcher’s thought and analysis,” he said.

Chap Sotharith, a senior economic researcher at the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, said dependence on foreign donors reduces the independence of a researcher. Meanwhile, corruption and human rights research might cause researchers trouble.

“The outcome of some sensitive studies, such as corruption and human rights, may get a reaction from government,” he said. “So some [researchers] don’t pay much attention to such kinds of research.”

Other researchers complain of a data and library shortage, of limited foreign language knowledge and a lack of cooperative sources, including among government officials.

Cambodia also faces a lack of human resources, said Kate Frieson, a research adviser for the CBNRM Learning Institute, a natural resources research agency. Of 15 Cambodian universities, only one has a research budget package, Frieson said.

Most of the state-owned universities exclude research subjects, while private institutions have found that research is not an attractive option to students, who generally only undertake a research project for a final thesis.

Given these challenges, CDRI and CBNRM held a meeting of more than 200 researchers earlier this month, encouraging the public and private sides to conduct more research in four major areas: agriculture, natural resources, economics and social development and governance.

At the workshop, Singapore was named as an interesting example, as research and study there made the small island nation-state one of the most developed countries in Asia.

Pou Sotheareak, a senior research fellow at Singapore’s Institute for Southeast Asian Study, said Cambodia has so far been unable to follow Singapore, as the government has no budget to pay attention to researchers or give value to them.