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Institute Ponders the Value and Costs of Aid

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visits a mushroom farm in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang.

A leading Cambodian organization met with US policymakers in Washington last week to discuss more effective use of aid money for rights and democracy.

Hang Chhaya, executive director of the Khmer Institute for Democracy, said he met with US officials and the international organization Oxfam America to demonstrate how aid can be used between governments and civil society.

KID has worked to promote grassroots awareness of basic rights, while maintaining a neutral political position, he said. Aid can be used to bolster people’s understanding of their rights, he said.

“If people understand their rights, they can participate and develop, and that’s important,” he said. “In the past, we saw a great lack on human rights awareness in various local areas.”

More awareness among people means more accountability within the government, something that civil society can help with and should be funded for, he said.

“So Cambodia is an example among the countries receiving aid from the US government, and they want to focus on what can be possible here, because people participate in governance and the development of the country,” he said.

Meanwhile, Cambodia’s development landscape is shifting, especially with the influx of Chinese aid, which typically lacks the overt conditions applied to Western money, Hang Chhaya said.

“That’s dangerous for what civil society, and our entire Cambodian society, wants, which is effective development that anybody can participate in and that reduces poverty,” he said.

“If we receive aid from foreign countries, we want to see whether this aid is attached with any interests, or how much needs to be paid back,” he said. “They next generation of Cambodian children, they want to know too, because they don’t want to be born and then owe debt to someone or to pay that.”