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In Cambodian Development, Bad Examples for Burma, Expert Says

Burma Constitution
Burma Constitution

Cambodia’s development through international aid could hold some lessons for Burma, some of them not so good, as that country opens up, experts said at a recent roundtable.

At the meeting, sponsored by the US Council on Foreign Relations, one Cambodia expert said a lack of coordinated effort by donors meant overspending and a lack of development.

Donors lack leverage in Cambodia, despite their funding, said Ear Sophal, author of “How Aid Dependence Undermines Cambodian Democracy.”

Cambodia’s government has restricted basic freedoms and limited the activities of civil society, he said. So there are lessons that Burma, also known as Myanmar, should not learn from Cambodia, he said.

“Myanmar, hopefully, seeing Cambodia’s experience, would not follow that,” he said. “But of course examples are already out there on how to confuse donors, how to use your ability to see to a lack of coordination, to essentially draw more resources and prevent [donors] from having much leverage over you.”

Ear Sophal presented a history of development in Cambodia, beginning from the 1950s, through the UN transition to democracy in 1993 and the present. About 30 people attended the meeting, including representatives of the World Bank, USAID and other US agencies.

Ear Sophal highlighted abuses of the rule of law in Cambodia, especially in the evictions of impoverished residents of the Phnom Penh neighborhood Boeung Kak, as well as labor abuses in the garment industry, which employs around 350,000 people.

Like Cambodia, Burma will have to deal with corruption, rights abuses and the challenges of democracy and good governance, he said.

Burma’s transition to democracy has earned approval from the international community, including the US and the UK. Japan, which is competing with Chinese influence in Asia, recently pledged $1.5 billion in development aid to Burma, while canceling nearly $3 billion in debt.