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Many Cambodians Dubious Over World Bank's Upbeat Forecast

Everyday Cambodians and labor leaders said this week they had a hard time seeing improvement in their lots, despite a recent World Bank report touting the country's high economic growth rate.

While the economy may be growing, they said, it meant little to most people, especially laborers, with the cost of fuel and other consumer goods rising.

"The economic growth is reflected in the families of the wealthy and the powerful," said Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia. "The workers' [monthly] salaries go up $5 to $45, but the commodities are still high and so is the gasoline price."

A recent World Bank report put the country's growth rate at 10.5 percent last year and projected 9 percent this year. The growth was being pushed especially by tourism at Angkor Wat, which sees an increasing number of visitors each year.

World Bank country manager Nisha Agrawal said that when one sector drives the growth, workers outside the industry sometimes do not feel the effects.

"So for example at the moment, say, tourism growth is higher than agricultural growth. Who benefits from tourism growth? Not so many poor people work in tourism as they do in agriculture," she said. "What's important now is, now that the government has prepared an agricultural strategy, to try to implement it."

Meanwhile, Cambodia remains one of the poorest countries on Earth, while a gap between the rich and poor is widening.

"Poor people are still poor," a vendor at Old Market told VOA. "The gasoline price is still high. The poor people work hard all the time and dare not quit."

"The poor people have nothing," a motorcycle taxi driver said. "The rich people are progressing…. I get 10,000 riel ($2.50). I have to take out gasoline, expenses, food, and there is nothing left."

Economic growth may be high, said Sok Hach, director of the Economic Institute of Cambodia, "but the workers' salaries decrease or are lower. The GDP is up, but to say the income goes up too is wrong."