Interview with Chhith Sam Ath,
Yuli Ismartono [time 33:49]
Yuli Ismartono: Mr. Chhith, thank you for being with us today. Cambodia has come a long way since it first established peace in 1992, after decades of civil war. What has been the peace dividend?
Chhith Sam Ath: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be in your program. In the 1980s, the level of economic and human development was very low. The return of peace resulted in a situation where people felt more secure, had more confidence, could better produce and trade goods. Besides having a very important social benefit, this also resulted in economic growth. In general countries that have peace do better economically than countries that are at war. This economic growth and social stability is the peace dividend.
It has to be noted that this peace dividend also benefited from the deployment of thousands of UN peacekeepers in 1992, which created a so-called UNTAC boom that consisted of rapid expansion in construction and services, concentrated mainly around Phnom Penh.
Starting from a base of very low growth and very high poverty at the start of the 1990s, peace and economic opening have made possible a decade of rapid growth and relatively rapid poverty reduction.
In addition, it is also growth that has benefited from peace dividend through the active pursuit of regional international integration. This resulted in an open market for the government industry and infrastructure development linking Cambodia internally and with neighboring countries.
YI: Mr. Chhith, you mentioned economic growth, however Cambodia remains a poor country, with more than 30 percent of the population living under the national poverty line. Why is that?
Chhith Sam Ath: The development of infrastructure and industries guided by the Government's policy choices have helped the country's economic development and growth through the 1990s and in the first decade of this millennium. But the pattern of this development has mainly favored the non-poor. The development of the garment industry, tourism and construction primarily favored people in the urban areas, which were not among the poor. The Government's new five-year national strategic development plan (2006-2010) recognizes this and makes improving the lives and livelihoods of the rural people a top priority. However, this recognition is not new. As early as 1995, the Government identified rural development as the 'ultimate objective' yet until now, government spending on agriculture and rural development has not been given sufficient priority. The poor who rely largely on agriculture have not benefitted much from Cambodia's economic growth. There has been relatively very little public investment in rural development and agriculture. In the Cambodia context, agriculture production remains heavily dependent on the weather, reflecting the lack of investment in technology, such as effective irrigation systems or flood defenses to offset the effects of too little or too much rain.
YI: So the majority of the poor people in Cambodia are in the rural areas?
Chhith Sam Ath: The majority of them live in the rural areas, and not benefitting much from the economic development currently being implemented.