As the world tackles the COVID-19 pandemic, new Australian Ambassador Pablo Kang spoke to Khmer Times on what his country is doing to assist the Kingdom. He also talked about how the Australian embassy is helping its citizens in Cambodia.
KT: What has Australia been doing to help Cambodia prevent the spread of COVID-19?
Mr Kang: Australia has a long history of providing assistance to Cambodia, we have spent approximately $150 million on Cambodia’s health care sector over the past decade alone, bringing our total aid contribution to approximately $1.3 billion since the 1990s. While normally we distribute funding to various sectors, such as education, agriculture, infrastructure and even demining, we are now refocusing our aid effort towards the nation’s COVID-19 response.
In terms of policies, we are letting the Cambodian government take the lead and will instead work very closely with the Ministry of Finance, as of course, they control the budget, and the Ministry of Health along with other key ministries to ensure that policies funded are what is needed.
We are also the largest funding partner of a programme called
the “Health Equity and Quality Improvement Project” run by the World Bank and the Cambodian government that pools funds from different donors to improve both the delivery and also the governance system of Cambodia’s health sector. This provides funding to 1,300 health facilities that provide free access to health care for the poorest two million in the country.
In addition, we are supporting the building of two provincial hospitals, another 45 health centres and providing 20 ambulances that have been requested by the Ministry of Health.
KT: Will Australia also assist to help the Cambodian economy recover?
Mr Kang: The Cambodian Government has already provided an initial stimulus package and is planning on implementing additional measures so we will again be working closely to assist them in this. We will also be working in partnership with the Ministry of Finance and the United Nations Development Programme to see what other things Cambodia could be doing in this space.
One programme we are planning is how to provide cash transfers to people who are in dire need of funds because they are either out of work or just can’t afford basic goods and services anymore. So there is a system called “IDPoor” in Cambodia that Australia and Germany have previously funded. It has already identified the neediest and most vulnerable households in Cambodia.
So using this already established infrastructure we hope to be able to directly inject cash that can be accessed instantly and from remote locations.
KT: How will the Australian Embassy be assisting Australians who have either chosen (despite recommendations) to remain or have still not been able to return home?
Mr Kang: There is a range of Australians who are in Cambodia and the focus has been not to discriminate whether they have been short term tourists or long term residents and want to return home. As I am sure you know, last week we provided an affordable and viable option for everybody who wanted to return and from those who have registered with us, the large majority have been able to do so.
Now for those who have chosen to stay in Cambodia and not take up this flight or previous flights we will still announce commercial flights as they come up. However, due to the number of people required to arrange a “special flight” I doubt we would be able to do another.
That said, of course, we would never turn our back on our citizens and will still provide consular assistance to those who need it. Our team is still strong and while we have had a few people return home for various reasons, the majority are still here and they are staying because they are deemed essential staff and because they genuinely want to stay and help.
Remember most people in my team also have family and friends back in Australia so we are in this together and we all are doing our best to help each other get through this period.
KT: Do you have any other advice for Australians staying in Cambodia during this period?
Mr Kang: For those Australians who are still in Cambodia please continue to follow the embassy’s advice and messages updated regularly via our Facebook Page and please register your contact details and whereabouts so we can continue to provide you with important updates throughout the crisis.