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All Parties Agree: Cambodia Needs the Aid

Ruling and opposition party officials who are usually at odds with one another agree on at least one thing: Cambodia needs the aid money it gets from donors each year.

Billions of dollars in aid have poured into Cambodia since UN-sponsored elections in 1993, and donors agreed Wednesday to give $690 million more. Rights groups said they were disappointed with donors, who continue to give aid to the government without holding it fast to policies of good governance.

While disagreements exist over how much oversight should go along with the aid, no one denies that Cambodia needs the money. Infrastructure, health, education and other institutions remain weak, wracked by war and neglect. Officials said after this week's meeting they intended to direct more money at those problems.

Critics said that without strong anti-corruption measures, aid money doesn't go where it is needed most, and instead finds the pockets of corrupt officials. Meanwhile, the problems of land-grabbing and rights abuse remain, and an anti-corruption law is stagnant.

With corruption siphoning off much needed funds for development, Cambodia risked becoming a permanent aid recipient, critics said, which threatened to turn the country into a beggar nation.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle Thursday said the money was necessary, but some took umbrage with the beggar analogy.

Taking aid money was "not begging," National Assembly President Heng Samrin said. "This is [getting] help from those countries."

National Assembly Finance Committee Chairman Chiem Yeap declined to forecast when Cambodia might stop relying on aid, in grants or loans from foreign governments or development banks.

"It is not different from women having babies. When they feel better, the midwives leave," he said. "We see that we should do things ourselves. But right after the war, our economic infrastructure was down, and we reconstructed our country. It is still not enough for our farmers' necessities, so we cannot pull ourselves away from foreign aid."