Experts say that Cambodia’s economic growth remains fragile and unsustainable, bringing environmental degradation, social inequality and, at times, unrest to the country.
Cambodia has maintained a high economic growth rate in recent years, up to 8 percent, “but that high growth comes with high costs,” said Prince Norodom Sirivudh, who took part in a wide-reaching economic forum in Phnom Penh on Saturday.
Representatives from the government, civil society, private sector and other stakeholders gathered in the forum to discuss issues facing Cambodian development, with the financial support from the Asia Foundation, the Voice of America and others.
Environmental degradation, a widening wealth gap and “social exclusion” have all accompanied growth, Norodom Sirivudh, who is the supreme privy counselor to King Norodom Sihamoni and a former defense minister, said.
“The urban-rural divide is getting more serious,” he said. “This leads to social and political tensions and instability. The victims of land grabbing, human right violations, injustice and corruption are calling for help. Who can help them? Who should be responsible and accountable for this?”
Tek Vannara, executive director for the NGO Forum, a coalition of rights, development and other organizations, said Cambodia’s growth has brought advantages and disadvantages.
“We see major improvement in infrastructure, the social security net and the livelihood of some people,” he said. “At the same time, we are also witnessing major challenges every day, such as land disputes, deforestation and forced evictions, as a result of some development projects.”
Other experts agreed, saying the benefits of the nation’s growing economy are not being shared. And it has brought about corruption.
“The ones who benefit the most from this corrupt practice are high ranking officials, investors and some rich people,” said Kem Key, a social analyst. “The development is a zero-sum game. If we get a road, we lost natural resources.”
Sao Sopheap, a spokesman for the Ministry of Environment, said that if the government failed to bring about development, it would also be criticized.
“I don’t know what measurements they use to assume that the negative effects outweigh the positive ones,” he said. “I am not sure if they are right or wrong. Any development that affects us socially or environmentally, we have our approaches to deal with it.”