World Bank Emphasizes Demand Side in Cambodian Project

22 December 2008


Shifting strategic emphasis, the World Bank is taking a new approach to its work with Cambodia, one that among other things will mean funneling money to civil society organizations in an effort to stimulate demand for better governance.

The new direction is known as “demand for good governance” (DFGG) and contrasts fundamentally from the traditional supply-side approach of providing technical assistance and other aid to the government. The Bank document calls the effort in Cambodia “the first free-standing and full-scale effort in this area.”

The demand-side approach is part of the Bank’s wider governance and anticorruption strategy and is discussed in a recent one-year review.

The approach relates generally to a new “Global Partnership Facility” that also is expected to put funds in the hands of civil society organizations (CSOs). (See related freedominfo.org article.)

The approach relates generally to a new “Global Partnership Facility” that also is expected to put funds in the hands of civil society organizations (CSOs).

The $20 million approved for Cambodia Dec. 3 still will go to the Cambodian government, but in an unusual, carefully negotiated twist, about a fifth of it will be channeled to CSOs. 

Groups seeking funding and agreeing to abide by principles of “constructive engagement” will participate in a nationwide competition.  A complex selection process is being established that will be administered by a third party, the Asia Foundation, a veteran CSO itself.

According to Bank documents, the Cambodian government has made “good progress” in increasing growth and fighting poverty, but its governance environment “remains weak.” Quality of governance has been shown to have a “significant impact on economic growth and poverty reduction,” the Bank continued, noting that improvement in this area is a goal of the government’s own “rectangular strategy.’

Progress in strengthening governance in Cambodia “has been uneven and relatively slow,” according to the Bank, and government activity alone will not be sufficient. The engagement of non-state actors (NSAs) is also necessary, but their effectiveness is constrained by a variety of weaknesses, the Bank found.

The demand-side approach “refers to the extent and ability of citizens and other NSAs to enhance their voice and hold the state accountable…,” according to a Bank definition. The Bank envisions greater transparency, new avenues for consultation, development of programs in response to demand, and more oversight of the public sector by independent actors such as the media, civil society and citizens.

The four-year project will begin with efforts to build up four specific government departments and programs in ways that will complement the demand-side strategy.

The support for non-state actors will amount to $4.27 million, about a fifth of the project cost, and will be directed mostly to efforts related to the four priority areas. The funds potentially will go to all sorts of groups, including grassroots organizations, independent media and professional associations, among others. The bank document notes that one such activity could be “campaigning for and contributing to the preparation of a Freedom of Information framework by a coalition of independent media groups.” [The Bank has already helped the Cambodian government draft a freedom of information law, and a pro-FOI group has been founded.]

The grants will come in various sizes and be chosen through an application process by a yet-to-be-appointed board, including members from civil society, the private sector, the government and other stakeholders. The Grant-Making Committee will operate independent of the government, according to Bank documents. The members will be chosen by a selection committee and approved by the Deputy Prime Minister and the Bank.
 
Still in development are the principles of “constructive engagement” to which grantees would have to commit. This is designed to promote “collaboration rather than confrontation.” The Bank document noted that in the past governments viewed support for civil society groups “with suspicion and mistrust.”
   
Administering the program will be the Asia Foundation, a nonprofit, nongovernmental, 50-year-old organization that supports programs in Asia to help improve governance, law, and civil society; women’s empowerment; economic reform and development; and international relations.

The Bank project description says the grant-making component is “admittedly untried, untested and risky.” An annex delves into the potential risks.  “However, the strong returns expected from bringing NSAs into more prominent governance roles in Cambodia justify the risks.” The Bank speaks of building “coalitions of reform,’ creating a “demonstration effect,” and “ripple” effects.

By Toby McIntosh

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In this column, Washington, D.C.-based journalist Toby J. McIntosh reports on the latest developments in information disclosure in International Financial and Trade Institutions (IFTI).
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