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Chris Minko

Aid……….For Who??
An Article by Chris Minko

Published on

The definition of 'aid' is fairly simple; it means to assist someone or give them help and the
concept of aid, where wealthy countries and organizations utilize their resources to assist the
development of poorer countries or countries that have suffered conflict or natural disaster, is
an unselfish idea that reflects the best human instincts. There are some organizations that
operate very effectively, ensuring that most of the funds are directed to the recipient and that
those resources are used effectively. While these organizations represent the best aspects of
the idea of 'aid', unfortunately they are not reflective of the industry overall. The theory of aid
is great, the reality is appalling;

Naguib Mahfouz: ( Egypt): Nobel Prize winner ( Literature) : Author and
social commentator: "80 cents in the dollar never reaches the intended

Dr Beat Richter ( Cambodia): "80 % of Donor aid funding leaves the country
in the hands of expatriate advisors and consultants"

Samdech Hun Sen: Cambodian Prime Minister: "70 % of donor funds is spent
on paying foreign consultants"

Although aid organizations have been operating internationally for more than 50 years, Aid
and Development, as an industry, blossomed after the Vietnam War, a righteous product
based on the collective guilt as Western culture started to understand the havoc it had
wreaked on Third World countries and also as a form of backdoor colonization by Western
governments who felt (and still feel) that they could 'buy influence' via aid donations. Look at
the recent 'generosity' shown to Cambodia by its international donors.

Aid and Development, like Trade, has become an international industry, but unlike most
international industries it is completely unregulated. There is no established structure. We
still dwell in this Fools Paradise that aid organizations only exist to help the poor and
suffering, have an ethical base, so no rules need apply. This has left the system open to abuse
by spurious groups who raise money based on dubious claims which rarely achieve more
than the rental of luxury apartments, a fleet of Lexus 4Wheel Drive Vehicles and a dubious
lifestyle which could never be sustained (or tolerated) in their own country. This Culture of
Comfort wastes money and often causes justifiable anger and resentment from local people
who see foreigners living luxurious lives based on their poverty. How Do These People Sleep
At Night??

This lifestyle, with all its perks (free private school education, annual trips home, tax
deductibility, the villa and the maids…) also engenders a closed-shop mentality. Once on the
Gravy Train, expats are unlikely to be critical lest they lose their place at the trough (a mixed
metaphor), just as aid recipients are loathe to criticize donor bodies as this often results in
blacklisting and permanent loss of funding.
Chris Minko

The funds are often used to finance esoteric experiments in social development which are of
little or no value, and imposed by the donor country/International Non-Government
Organization (INGO), or overpaid consultancies (which pay very well but achieve very little)
or the funds (amazingly!) remain in the bank and never leave the donor country.

The business of aid is nowhere more apparent than in the duplication of programs as INGOs,
with a paucity of ideas, seek to replicate or poach existing projects. If they don't have a clear
idea of their mission, why are they there? This is the question people are starting to ask.

And they're starting to ask it in Cambodia.

For years now, INGOs have tried to manipulate government policy in order to extend their
mandates. Why?......Well, try raising money for aid projects in cold, rocky, inhospitable
Afghanistan; its not easy, whereas Cambodia with its tragic history and beautiful, tropical
landscape is a veritable cash cow. INGOs are guilty of exploiting Cambodia for their own
financial gain, characterizing it as an impoverished country, littered with landmines, full of
sad, starving people who can only be saved by Western aid. Cambodia is renowned as a
lucrative funding base, reflected by the number of INGOs currently registered in the country.
While there have been some notable achievements and successes (the Don Bosco Training
School is a good example), do the results reflect the billions of dollars in aid that have poured
into the country since 1991. Where has all this money gone? What has it achieved?

Why is no mention made of the positive developments that have occurred in Education and
Literacy, Health and the recent development of an international banking system which has set
new benchmarks for financial institutions in the country? This rhetorical question highlights
the need for aid organizations to perpetuate a negative image of Cambodia for their own
questionable ends.

The Prime Minister His Excellency Samdech Hun Sen recently stated (correctly) that aid
organizations should work together with the government instead of constantly criticizing it.
Nobody denies the problems that are a continuing legacy of Cambodia's past, but the
arrogance of Western governments and organizations claiming to know what's best without
working with the democratically elected government smacks of modern imperialism of the
worst kind. The shortcomings of this attitude have been tragically exposed by the recent
debacle in Iraq, where the attempt to impose a 'Western solution' has set that country back by
decades, cost hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives and trillions of dollars that could have been
used for constructive rather than destructive purposes.

This inability to deal with the realities and be a partner in finding real solutions for Cambodia
is understandable when most aid workers live in luxurious expat enclaves, socialize
together and view the country through the tinted glass of their Lexus, having little or no real
contact with the culture or Khmers except as the 'clients' of their patronizing generosity. In
order to understand the problems, surely one needs to understand and respect the Khmer
processes even if they don't conform to Western practices….it's their country!! This lack of
respect for Cambodia, its culture and developing civil institutions once again exposes the
terrible dichotomy of Western Aid. Aid..For Who?

How much longer will we see these people making a generous living off the poverty of
Cambodia, with their kramas wrapped around their necks in cultural ecstasy, their M.A.s in
Chris Minko

International Development tucked in their back pockets and telling Khmers what they need to
©Chris Minko, 2009.

(The author, Chris Minko, has extensive knowledge of and experience in the operation of aid and development
in Cambodia having lived and worked in Cambodia for 13 years. As the founder of the Cambodian National
Volleyball League (Disabled) (C.N.V.L.D.) he successfully transformed the organization from being part of an
INGO to a fully independent, local entity. He has received international recognition including the United
Nations Best Practice and UNESCO Fairplay awards. As the result of the opinions expressed in the article, the
CNVLD does not accept donor funding, choosing instead to develop long-term corporate relationships with
partners such as Nike, ANZ Royal and The Government of Cambodia.
He can be contacted at is an online initiative, working for the sustainability of NGOs by increasing their access to
donors, resources and skills. It uses online technologies to spread knowledge about organizational sustainability,
promote creative ideas for long-term generation of institutional funds for development interventions, improve
professional efforts in resource mobilization and advocate for increased allocation of donor resources for
building the skills and capacities of NGOs. For more information, you can visit the website at or email us at