Situation in Cambodia

As a result of the Khmer Rouge regime and the subsequent civil war, Cambodia has a strikingly young population with more than 50% of the people being younger than 23 years of age. The country’s official language is Khmer, which is spoken by 95% of the people. Increasingly, younger generations are picking up English through schools and universities as a consequence of the influx of English-speaking tourists. Khmer origins dominate Cambodia’s population with roughly 90%, followed by Vietnamese (4%), Chinese (1%), Cham, and Khmer Loeu (highland tribes). 78% of the population live in rural areas, but urbanization increases by an estimated 4.6% per year.

Cambodia’s economy is traditionally based on agriculture and about 85% of the cultivated land is used to produce rice. Besides agriculture, the tourism industry contributes the most to the country’s nominal GDP of US$805 per capita. Furthermore, garment exports play an important role in Cambodia’s economy. As of 2011, oil and natural gas will be extracted from reservoirs found under Cambodia’s territorial waters. Despite an average GDP growth rate of 10% over the past five years, there are major obstacles to sustained economic progress. Ongoing corruption and unenforced laws hinder entrepreneurial activities and the development of a private sector. Also, the economy suffers from the above described high proportion of young population. In rural areas, the level of productive skills and education remain at very low levels partially due to the inexistence of basic infrastructure. Today, roughly 30% of the population still lives on less than US$0.50 a day and is not able to achieve an adequate standard of living.

NGOs in Cambodia
Since the end of the civil war in 1991, a myriad of NGOs have started activities covering demining, microfinance, orphanages, agri-business, public health issues, and more. Nevertheless, the image of humanitarian organizations is ambivalent. Despite some major successes such as the demining of more than 25,000 hectares of land and the fight against HIV, NGOs and their employees are associated with comparatively high salaries and extensive lifestyles, which reduce the aid budget. Action Aid, an international aid watchdog, estimated that the salaries of the approximately 700 NGO consultants in Cambodia exceed those of the country’s 160,000 civil servants altogether. In addition to that, many name NGOs as a prevailing reason for the lack of private sector industry because of the abuse of the not-for-profit status. This status helps organizations to avoid taxes giving them an unfair competitive advantage. In order to address the abuse of the not-for-profit status by NGOs and to increase transparency, the Cambodian government is considering the introduction of a new NGO law. The law would bring a thorough approval process that requires NGOs to disclose detailed information about goals, structures, funding sources, properties, and logos. Furthermore, organizations that fail to submit annual reports to the Ministry of Economy and Finance will be fined.