The government yesterday ordered two NGOs to retract a critical report on the negative impacts of microloans after summoning their representatives for a meeting to defend their research.
The report, published last month by Licadho and Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, featured seven case studies of abuse chosen from 28 microfinance institution clients.
According to the report, two million Cambodians held a total of $8 billion in outstanding microloans. It said the amount is equal to about one-third of the Kingdom’s GDP.
Government officials and MFIs were quick to dismiss the report, noting that interviews were only conducted in 10 communes in the provinces of Kandal, Kampong Cham, Tboung Khmum, Prey Veng and the city of Phnom Penh.
The government then told representatives of the NGOs to defend their methodology during a meeting at the Council of Ministers’ office yesterday with the Government Spokesmen Unit.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said after the meeting that the NGOs will be called upon again by next week for another meeting, after which they are expected to make a public statement retracting their own report.
“The report was not professional and objective because they only surveyed 28 families,” Mr Siphan said. “They were asked to make a public statement to the public saying that the report does not reflect the general situation.”
Am Sam Ath, deputy monitoring director of Licadho, yesterday said he stands by the report and its methodology.
“We interviewed many people, but we took 28 families for a case study,” Mr Sam Ath said. “We confirmed that the 28 families did not represent people from across the country and MFI customers nationwide.”
“We wanted the government to conduct more research based on what we have found in order to avoid violations of human rights,” he added.
Soeung Saran, executive director of STT, yesterday said he wants the government to take measures in order to prevent future human rights violations.
“We told the government the report is related to human rights violations when land is confiscated and people are forced to migrate because they are unable to pay back their loans,” Mr Saran said. “We wanted the government and MFIs to see the evidence.”
Bun Mony, chief executive officer of Vithey Microfinance, yesterday reiterated that MFIs have dismissed the report.
“The government should not pay attention to this small issue,” he said. “As I have said, they [the NGOs] are saying that MFIs’ purpose is to confiscate someone’s assets.”
Sok Touch, president of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, also lashed out at the report after its publication, citing a study he did in nine provinces, where 1,000 borrowers were interviewed. Mr Touch said only one percent encountered problems repaying their loans.
“I think the concerns raised by the rights groups were politically motivated because they targetted borrowers who failed to pay their loans,” he said. “The report is unacceptable.”