Is $700 million lost through graft? If so, then top-down aid in Cambodia is not working.

Here’s a valuable link to a report funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and looking into issues of effective aid in Cambodia. Among the challenges:

  1. Overseas NGO’s tending to take a top-down approach.
  2. Lack of co-ordination between NGO’s.
  3. Failure to account for where the funding goes – huge levels of graft suspected.
  4. Often, but not always, a disconnect between foreign-run NGOs and the local population.

The report suggests, I think quite fairly, that the NGO sector is under-developed or immature, and it raises the question about whether NGOs are unintentionally doing the work  that the Government should be responsible for.

It is good to see an independent report such as this – and one raising the questions it does. From my own perspective I feel that decisions discussed in 2004 and 2005 with Savong about the management and financial structure of Savong’s School were the right decisions: namely to deliberately put the project in local hands.

Immediately after the school was built, the village elders of Bakong came to visit Savong, and they asked for money to rebuild a footbridge over the river near Rolous village.  I remember (westerner that I am) being a little offended. Haven’t we done enough? How can they ask us for more?  But Savong quietened me down and explained the need for the bridge and how he wanted to show that his school was a willing new part of the local community.

He saw things from a local perspective, and literally built bridges with local people. What a different outcome might have eventuated for the school if a proud, business-focused, target driven, top-down western-run school had been set up, and run by foreigners.

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