Language a barrier in Cambodia PRSP

6 February 2001

Insufficient time and a failure to write documents in the national language limited the opportunity for NGO involvement in Cambodia’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) process, according to the NGO Forum on Cambodia, which includes local and international NGOs.

The NGOs received support from the UNDP to hire a consultant, which “was successful in giving ownership to NGOs in the process of building NGO and civil society consensus,” remarked Russell Peterson of the NGO Forum, speaking at a meeting in November 2000. Peterson commented, however, that the technical support was recieved too late and that “there has been insufficient contact between government and NGOs to date.”

All drafts of the Interim PRSP (IPRSP) up to the eighth and final draft were written in English. A Khmer translation of the final draft prepared for the Council of Ministers had not yet been released to NGOs. “This raises serious questions about country ownership of the IPRSP. The choice of language can exclude important government decision-makers, limit civil society participation, impose foreign ways of thinking, and give foreign donors an inordinate amount of power to influence the final outcome”, said Peterson. “We found that Cambodians only began to be fully included in the discussions and debates of the NGO Forum when Khmer was made the main language of discourse. A truly country-owned PRSP process would entail drafting the document solely in Khmer, discussions between government and civil society solely in Khmer, and with the donors (not the Cambodians) puzzling over the meaning of the translation and the strange concepts used.”

Peterson identified several areas for action in order to achieve a “truly consultative” process:

  • representatives of diverse sectors of civil society – not just NGOs – should be included;
  • full information disclosure should take place prior to the consultation;
  • draft documents should be made readily available, in Khmer language, and with sufficient time for comment;
  • the recommendations made by CSOs should be included in a publicly available formal record of the proceedings of any consultation;
  • the government should be given adequate time and resources to consider and, where appropriate, integrate the ideas and contributions of civil society into the strategy.