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 Post subject: NGO’s strangling the Private Sector in Cambodia
 Post Posted: Thu Jan 19, 2006 2:02 pm 
As I was catching up with a few weeks of backlog of ‘Andrex: The Cambodia Daily’ at the weekend, I came across a correspondence on the letters page that was having a bit of a pop at NGO’s and Aid money. In it the correspondent made the claim that as long as the NGO’s were here and were handing out the larger salaries for Khmers than they could get in the private sector, then the long term economy of Cambodia was going to suffer.

Sentiments that I have long held; not too mention voiced at most opportunities.

As most of us know your average, moderately educated, Khmer with reasonable English skills has one main career goal. To work for an NGO.

Even the guys that I work with in the Cambodian Government all want to improve their English so that they can ‘get job good nah with NGO’ every morning as we eat our breakfast of Chinese noodle soup on the pavement café opposite the office they pour over the job advertisements in that most raggedy of papers, The Cambodia Daily.

Due to this, the private sector here loses out on a lot of skilled employees, or should I say potential employees, quite simply because they can not compete with internationally funded fuzzy jobs with woolly titles and nebulous job descriptions.

This is actually harming the economic development of Cambodia.

Instead of developing exports, or increasing the quality of domestic products, or attempting to attract more Direct Foreign Investment, or expanding the tourism sector beyond a few temples and an adequate (at best) beach, all the potential entrepreneurs and skilled workers are going to NGO’s or working in areas servicing NGO’s.

Now, there are one or two NGO’s and IO’s that are looking at private sector development. Out of those, I believe that we can just dismiss out of hand those of the ‘black, one-legged, bicycling, Chinese nose flute playing, lesbians, who were previously trafficked’ variety; you know the sort of silk weaving communes that produce 3 silk scarves a month and tries to charge other NGO employees or tourists along the river US$120 for one of them.

As for the rest. Well, I only know a couple of NGO’s that work with midrange size businesses and they have been struggling. Mostly with funding for their various SME projects, it seems that none of the big players are interesting in working with anything that is connected to the private sector, or that most foul of words a profit.

One of the ones that was tried was an NGO sponsored credit institution. Giving soft loans for ‘alternative livelihoods’ that is to say; business start-ups or expansions. The theory was sound, lend out your Aid money rather than give it away, when the business is successful it pays back the loan, plus a small rate of interest, 2% to 4% being typical, and you can then lend out the same money to another new venture, recycling the cash over a period of time as well as helping to create new income streams for people in the area.

As I said, the theory was sound, I approve of the theory…

Unfortunately, the kind of Muppets that you usually get working for NGO’s do not know the first damn thing about running a business, let alone advising other people on how to run a business as well. The credit institute went bust in less than two years as the funding dried up and because 60% of the people borrowing money defaulted on their loans. One guy even going as afar as to borrow several times over from the Institute and then use the collected wealth to buy himself a new house half a dozen provinces over, never to be seen again!

The other Private Sector Development NGO has so far seen fit to ignore all of my attempts at correspondence with them, so who knows what they are up to, not me at any rate.

Out of the big boys, the International Organisations, I know of only one project that is related to business development and economic stability/sustainability and that is a World Bank project; however on closer inspection it turns out to be mostly aimed at the staff of the Ministry of Commerce, for capacity building and for writing some reports on potential areas to change in the law and regulatory frameworks. US$10 million on writing, yet more, reports and holding some workshops. Ho Hum.

Of course, it could be argued that the national staff being employed by NGO’s is having its ‘capacity built’. Indeed capacity building is a wonderful NGO phrase that allows you to get away with all sorts of nonsense. Their abilities are being improved, they are receiving training. Unfortunately, back in the real world of employment, there is not a lot of use for these skills. In a profit making organisation you do not have fully facilitated, participatory workshops; you have business meetings, or briefings. You do not spend all you time writing reports about reports about potential reports; you do the damn job and then send a memo. You write project plans that actually bare some correlation to the work being done.

So even the ‘lucky ones’ working for NGO’s are not learning the sort of skills that this Country needs to become economically independent and financially self sustaining. All it is doing in strengthening the countries dependence on its dirty little NGO habit.
Is it any wonder I was in the local bar Friday afternoon downing a couple of swift Gins and Tonic by quarter to three?

Lord Playboy

The views in this column are entirely those of Lord Playboy (of Phnom Penh, Sonteipheap and that muddy patch of ground next to the school;) they are in no way are representative of Khmer440, its editors, staff or shoe-shine-boy, of any Ministry of the Royal Government of Cambodia who employs Lord Playboy, of people who think that profit is a dirty word, of employees of Pencil Riverside who do not know how to work a cash register, those people who think that a 250cc dirt bike is a ‘big bike’, or those people who just do not know that money, not PRA, makes the world go round . Damn, things will be different when I am running the Country.

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