Cambodia’s development vision for a progressive, inclusive, and sustainable society

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Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (L) attend a welcoming ceremony at the state guest house in Tokyo, Japan August 7, 2017. REUTERS

Post-conflict Cambodia presents an illuminating case of extraordinary success stories of peacebuilding, national reconciliation, and economic development. Since complete peace has been restored in 1998, Cambodia has achieved remarkably high economic growth performance of an average 8 percent per annum. Moreover, poverty rate has dropped significantly from 53 percent in 2004 to only about 10 percent in 2019. In tandem, education and healthcare sectors have improved remarkably.

This rapid socio-economic development and all other achievements Cambodia has achieved are attributed to a hard-earned peace and stability through a well-thought strategy of national reconciliation and peace building. Samdech Prime Minister Hun Sen emphasised at the 75th Session of the UNESCAP in Bangkok early this week that peace, stability, and inclusive and equitable growth are the cornerstones for national development.

A case in point to illustrate is Samdech Prime Minister’s win-win policy, which has been put in place since the late 1990s to end the civil wars and ideological fractionalisation. By all measures, the win-win policy, in conjunction with visionary leadership of Samdech Primer Minister, has provided not only the safety and security for the people but has also guaranteed social progress and economic prosperity. Provision and protection of private property rights, including social land concession, have been underway countrywide.

National development is work in progress, and the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) has relentlessly embarking on innovative development strategies. For instance, the RGC has initiated an ambitious development plan to transform Cambodia to be an upper-middle-income country by 2030 and high-income country by 2050. It has been clear that individual citizens of Cambodia are to receive equitable share of social protection in a social safety net program.

The RGC has introduced and implemented three grand policies to achieve the global vision of “Leaving No One Behind”. Firstly, the 2016-2025 National Social Protection Policy Framework has aimed to promote income security and reduce economic and financial vulnerability. It has been designed to enhance people’s welfare and strengthen social solidarity. Secondly, the RGC’s Health Equity Fund has been underway to provide free healthcare services to the poor and cash allowance to maternal and pregnant women as well as under-two-year-old children from the poor families across the country. Thirdly, the 2017-2030 National Ageing Policy has been developed to support for the elderly and address the issues of ageing population.

It is understood that achieving inclusive and equitable growth and healthy development for a post-conflict society has been a global challenge. This is particularly the case for Cambodia as well. On the one hand, the gains from economic growth in Cambodia have not been fairly and equitably distributed across income groups. On the other land, socio-economic inequality which remains a development challenge has been acerbated by inequality in access to economic opportunities per se. Notably, rural infrastructure remains far less developed compared with that in the urban areas. These, together with weak domestic labor market, have prompted outbound cross-border migration to neighbouring countries and the region. At times, it has rendered labour shortages in more economically dynamic regions.

In the spirit of moving the country forward toward a progressive and sustainable development path, Cambodia would need a comprehensive and holistic development strategy and a well-coordinated development approach. Long-term growth and development strategy would require an emphasis on inclusiveness, economic and social resilience, and sustainability.

The first development angel would be rural development, which is without doubts essential to the realisation of sustainable and inclusive development. Developing the rural economy would reduce urban-rural development gaps and enhance national economic resilience. In this connection, the Asian Cultural Council (ACC) which was launched in Siem Reap in early 2019 introduced an innovative village development initiative – TECHO 100 Model Villages Project – with Cambodian characteristics. TECHO stands for Technology and Thought, Education and Ecology, Culture and Community, Humanity and History, and Organic and Original.

The TECHO 100 Model Villages Project is part of the dots-connecting strategy. The Model Villages will be interlinked and clustered based on their inherent comparative advantages and development potential. They are linked to urban areas through rural-urban connectivity projects, such as through transport and communication to facilitate value addition in production chains and exchanges of goods and services. Rural-urban connectivity would facilitate the spread of ideas and knowledge, the mobility of people, and the enhancement of productivity and innovation. This will contribute to the narrowing of the development gaps and the promotion of sustainable and inclusive development.

Because local knowledge and local solutions do matter in building a resilient and inclusive growth, the TECHO 100 Model Villages Project would play those roles. It would also create new impetus for sustainable development in rural areas in Cambodia through the development of rural governance innovation, leadership capacity building, and infrastructure development. Currently, the Asian Vision Institute (AVI) is conducting a couple of pilot research projects in Phreah Vihear and Takeo. It is expected that the projects will be expanded to all the Cambodia’s 25 city and provinces. The experiences and lessons learned from the project will be shared with other villages across the country and similar projects can be replicated and applied in other Asian countries.

Another development angle is smart city development, a key component of Cambodia’s development vision. The vision follows the inspiration of the Asean Smart Cities Network (ASCN) established in 2018 with an aim to improve the lives of the people, using technology as an enabler. Battambang, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap are among the cities listed in the network. Cambodian cities need better planning and development programs in order to realize a smart, inclusive and green urban development. Going forward, Cambodia would need a comprehensive master plan on smart city development with a strong consideration of the synergies between technology, economic modernisation and efficiency, cultural assets, tourism development, and environment and sustainability.

The third development angle is development of digital economy. The RGC’s strategy to invest in digital technologies and infrastructure to grasp the opportunities deriving from the Fourth Industrial Revolution, known as Industry 4.0, shall need to proceed urgently. Cambodia needs to promote inclusive digital economy to ensure that everyone benefits from technological revolution, to minimise impact of disruptive technologies, and to prevent cybersecurity risk.

All in all, to realise its inclusive development vision of becoming a high-income country by 2050, Cambodia will need to undertake dots-connecting strategy with efforts to further invest in rural development, smart city development, digital economy, and rural-urban connectivity.

Suos Yara is Member of the Cambodian National Assembly.

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