The forest sector provides a particularly vivid illustration of this asset-stripping process at work. Cambodia’s most powerful logging syndicate is led by relatives of Prime Minister Hun Sen and other senior officials. Activities in which members of this logging syndicate are implicated include the large-scale illegal logging in the Prey Long Forest carried out under the guise of the Tumring Rubber Plantation development and the felling of thousands of resin-producing trees tapped by local people who depended on them as a source of income.
Yet Cambodia’s international donors are not using their influence effectively. International donors annually provide approximately US$600 million per year in aid to Cambodia. This is equivalent to half the national budget. Donors have not used the leverage that this aid gives them effectively. Specifically, they have refused to acknowledge the fact that the government is thoroughly corrupt and does not act in the best interests of the population.
As a result, billions of dollars-worth of aid funded by western taxpayers have done relatively little to improve the lives of ordinary Cambodians. Moreover, donor support has failed to produce reforms that would make the government more accountable to its citizens. Instead, the government is successfully exploiting international aid as a source of political legitimacy.