Selected Comments Samdech Techo Hun Sen, Official Launch of Cash Transfer Program for Poor and Vulnerable Households during Covid-19

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CNV:

  • Samdech, Excellencies, Members of the Royal Government,
  • Excellencies, Distinguished National and International Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
  • My Fellow Citizens,

Today, I am delighted to preside over the official launch of the “Cash Transfer Program for Poor and Vulnerable Households during COVID-19”, which has been created by the Royal Government of Cambodia to assist the poor and vulnerable given the ongoing and uncertain COVID19 situation.

In fact, COVID-19 is one of the most infectious diseases in recent human history. To date, more than 8 million people worldwide have been infected, with more than 400,000 lives lost. This is a terrible tragedy that nobody wishes to see. The world has not yet found any drugs and vaccines for the treatment and prevention of this disease. In addition to the loss of hundreds of thousands of people around the world, COVID-19 has also had a profound impact on the overall socio-economic situation. We are aware that global economic and commercial activities in almost every sector has been seriously affected, with many people losing their livelihoods and struggling for daily survival. This disease has pushed many people, both in developed and developing countries, back into poverty.

For Cambodia, although we can control the situation in terms of prevention of the local transmission and imported cases through the introduction of rigorous measures, the negative effects of the spread of this disease have continued to impact our country’s socio-economic situation with a high degree of uncertainty. The Royal Government, through the Committee on Economic and Financial Policy, continuously reviews, evaluates and introduces series of measures, both economic and social, to help stabilize businesses, support workers’ livelihoods, and provide a financial lifeline on the principle of “intervening to assist the sectors and people most affected”.

Specifically, in the economic sector, the government has already introduced four rounds of intervention measures, through tax exemption, non-payment of contributions for the employment injury and health insurance schemes, credit relief, increasing liquidity in the market, providing two-month allowances for workers in garment and tourism sectors, preparing special financing programs to restore and enhance SME, providing training courses, and offering working capital to meet the needs of factories, enterprises and businesses in order to restore and promote Cambodia’s economic growth.

In the social sector, the government has already launched a Cash-for-Work scheme for the development of rural infrastructure and farmer support, which has been expanded to 18 targeted provinces and will operate until 2022. For 2020, the government has decided to increase the budget for the project from nearly USD 38 million to approximately USD 100 million. This scheme will provide short-term employment opportunities with income to meet the daily needs of nearly 1 million people who have lost their jobs and returned to their homeland (both inside and outside the country) as well as people living in the communities. The scheme will also improve community infrastructure: supporting development and increased productivity for the agricultural and rural economy.  This will indirectly provide additional benefits to millions of families.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen!

Today, with the aim of helping the poor and vulnerable, the Royal Government has decided to launch a new social assistance program: “Cash Transfer Program for Poor and Vulnerable Households during COVID-19″, which is aimed at assisting poor households with an Equity Card (poor 1 and poor 2). The Royal Government’s main goal in launching this program is to improve the livelihood of the poor and vulnerable affected by COVID-19, including unemployed or marginalized people who have fallen into poverty. The rollout of this program demonstrates that the government “dares to speak, dares to take action” with purposefulness, clarity, and cautiousness.

Through this program, the Royal Government will provide a monthly allowance to poor households at their current residence according to the level of Equity Card, vulnerability and region. This approach is in accordance with the principle of equity and in response to the differences of food prices in the regions. The allowance will be paid in the fourth week of each month through WING specialized bank, which has a nationwide network of agents. As His Excellency Dr. Aun Pornmoniroth, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Economy and Finance, and Chairman of the Committee on Economic and Financial Policy reported earlier, currently there are approximately 560,000 households with Equity Cards (both poor 1 and poor2). The monthly spending for this assistance program is approximately 100 billion Riels (or about USD 25 million).

I would like to point out to my fellow citizens that this social assistance program is not a permanent one. The Royal Government has organized this program to provide social assistance during the COVID-19 crisis, with the cash transfer for two months in the first round which will be held in June and July. The Royal Government will continue to monitor and assess the situation and the actual impact of COVID-19. If the situation and effects of COVID-19 continue to be prolonged and are not improving, this social assistance program will be extended for an additional two months. However, if the effects of the COVID-19 subside, the government will conclude this social assistance program and focus investments on necessary activities to restore and promote economic growth and improve people’s livelihoods.

In addition, I would also like to note that this social assistance program is designed to help alleviate people’s hardships during the COVID-19 period, but we must also avoid establishing a lifestyle that is entirely dependent on government subsidies. Accordingly, the Royal Government, while paying close attention to the design and implementation of this social assistance program, has designed and implemented a systematic and intertwined measures, including the credit relief, increasing liquidity in the market, special financing programs designed to help and enhance SME, especially for the agriculture and agro-industry, financing schemes for working capital, increasing the capital and expanding the cash-for-work scheme for the development of rural infrastructure and supporting farmers, and distributing seeds to the people for free.  As I recall above, we aim to create favorable conditions for the people to continue their efforts to earn income through agricultural activities, livestock and production activities, and processing industries, and businesses to improve their personal livelihood.

[Elaborations 1]

Social Assistance during Covid-19 Crisis

[…] on this point, please let me affirm in addition to the report of Deputy Prime Minister Aun Pornmoniroth. I must stress that (what we are launching today) is social assistance during the time of Covid-19 crisis. It is not a permanent state feeding program. As some people have caused incitements and misunderstanding (about this program), I think they should go back to school to learn the difference between permanent feeding program and social assistance (in time of such health crisis) […]

Decade of Saving Allows RGC to Launch Cash Assistance

Before talking about issues relating to this cash transfer program, let me remind you that the Royal Government of Cambodia, since the time when HE Keat Chhon was Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy and Finance, and now in the time of Deputy Prime Minister Aun Pornmoniroth, has always been strict on saving liquidity. Proving people with social assistance is not about showing them figures on papers. It is about giving them real money. Thanks to its saving efforts, the Royal Government is in this time of crisis able to use the saving as cash assistance for our people. We will release it to the people in the days to come in this month and again next month.

Deputy Prime Minister Aun Pornmoniroth confirmed to me this morning that 125 million USD has already been available for the next five months. Although I said the cash transfer (to targeted households and individuals) would happen every two months, we already sent the amount of 125 million USD for that purpose already. It came to my mind those days when the Royal Government had had no liquidity/cash for payrolls. Some had joked there were 60 days per month in Cambodia. We had to borrow money from the National Bank for that purpose.

Thanks to our efforts in saving and gathering incomes, while exercising austerity measures on expenses, we have gradually been able to ensure regular paydays for civil servants and the armed forces […]

Cash Assistance for Initial 560,000 Households

It has now come the time when there is a need for cash assistance. Should we have no liquidity, what could we hand out to our people? I used to say that we have at least some three billion USD in cash available in hand. Some countries, though they wished to do this kind of program, they could not because they did not have cash. Cambodia, as you know it, is a poor country. Cambodia cannot run after those rich countries who provided bigger cash assistance to their people. We have this much capacity, though, to start with 560,000 households.

More Households May Fall Below Poverty Line

Let me affirm on this point. Now we are working to transfer cash assistance to 560,000 households. However, in every provinces, through the Ministry of Planning’s poverty update project, more may fall below the line of poverty. We must be serious on this issue. We have pulled poverty rate to a little below 10% but as we are in impacts of Covid-19, more households who have gone slightly above the line, may fall back below again. At this stage, we have identified 560,000 households. In two months from now, perhaps, 100,000 or 200,000 more households could add to the list. We would need to spend more […] people are entitled to apply for assistance […] and we must make sure they are really in the poor categories defined by the Ministry of Planning […]

Phnom Penh has not yet finished the process (of poverty assessment) but we can start providing those already listed in the poor categories. We must keep working to list more through. As for provinces where poverty assessment and listing finished, they should continue to monitor as some staying slightly above the line in the meantime may drop to below. They are households added to the list to receive cash assistance from the state. At the present rate, I think we would spend as much as 25 million USD/month but as the number of households falling below the line of poverty increased, we would be looking to somewhere at 30 million USD or more.

We must make sure no Cambodians died of hunger without us knowing and helping them. Let me clarify further points raised in the speech of Deputy Prime Minister Aun Pornmoniroth. We have two categories of target groups – Poor 1 and Poor 2. They are of two different definitions. Let me elaborate the formula by which the two categories will receive.

Cash Assistance Formula for Poor 1 and Poor 2

On 21 June, there was this interview by a foreign radio broadcasting in Khmer language […] the interviewee (Ph. D) seemed to be naïve when he said in the interview “what would people use the amount of 18,000 Riel for?.” Even if it is a small amount, I think it is even better than nil. The Royal Government would in that case be relieved because people, if they were to reject the assistance, could assist themselves and did not depend on the Royal Government. However, the Royal Government provided people not with that little.

As far as cash assistance is concerned, let me emphasize, there will be an equitable amount that each household will receive. No matter how many member/s in their households, treated as a single unit, each household (in Phnom Penh) will receive an amount of 120,000 Riel (or 30 USD). Those households in rural areas will each receive 80,000 Riel, no matter how small or big their households are.

Then, we will count number of each household members. Take for instance, cities/towns other than Phnom Penh, as a single unit each household will receive 120,000 Riel. Each member of the household will receive an addition of 40,000 Riel per member […] kids under five years old will each receive 40,000 Riel, and the aged of 60 years old and over, and those with disease such as HIV/AIDS will each receive 28,000 Riel.

In Phnom Penh, beside the same amount of 120,000 Riel per household, every members in the household will each receive 52,000 Riel. Phnom Penh residents received larger amount than those living outside Phnom Penh. What I have elaborated so far are under the category of Poor-1. Those listed under Poor-2 will receive less. Those members of households who are five years old and below, the aged of 60 years old and above – classified under Poor-1 category will each receive 40,000 Riel and Poor-2 will each receive 28,000 Riel […]

Those in rural areas, each household will receive 80,000 Riel. One household member under Poor-1 category will each receive 24,000 Riel and Poor-2 will each receive 16,000 Riel. Households’ members who are five years and below, the aged of 60 years old and above and those with disease such as HIV/AIDS will each receive (another 24,000 Riel). Let me stress here a single-headed household owner, a widow, will also receive 120,000 Riel […] that is the formula by which we are working to get cash assistance through WING, a specialized bank, to people soon […]

Cash Assistance to People’s Hands in June and Again in July

Some analysts said the amounts (we are providing to those poor and vulnerable households) are small. I would thank them, by saying so, if they told their households not to take the offer. The Royal Government has had burden in building the countries and there are many people to help. We have so many social assistance programs undergoing. However, this is the responsibility of the Royal Government to help relieve people’s difficult livelihood in time of Covid-19. As I confirm earlier, this is not a feeding program but only a supplementary assistance. People are able to farm and/or doing other jobs […] I am not responding to that Ph. D person, but I have the need to explain it to the people […] I think people wanted to see the program’s cash come to them as soon as possible. It is urgent there after that concerned institutions and authorities get the cash assistance to their hands in June, a few days left, and again in July […]

Be Prepared for Protracted Situation, Assistance Ends When Things Improves

Our country is poor but we have good habit of saving. We are not like “leaking buckets.” We have cash/liquidity […] we already got out 125 million USD for the job. We are prepared to spend more should the crisis prolongs. Our program ends once the situation improves. According to the report I received on a weekly basis from the Ministry of Agriculture, by this time, we have cultivated rice on 1.5 million hectares already. We are in the process of harvesting dry season and upper-land rice. Cambodia’s economy is still functioning, especially in agriculture. A large part of industry is functioning and so is service sector […]

I never declare closing or locking down economy. We have imposed restriction in education sector because of many small children and other concerns, Karaoke, discotheque, gyms, etc. but we never close factories or markets. In a more comprehensive approach, we have thrown capital of 100 million USD to rural area to help those losing their jobs to find works and earn income from cash for works. I visited the construction project of the Phnom Penh International Airport. They currently employ over 1,000 workers but once they are in full swing, they will employ about 20,000 workers. In Preah Sihanouk province, we employed about a thousand workers for infrastructural development project. Other roads and bridges projects, especially those implemented with companies from China are all functioning […]

Poor State Helps Poor and Vulnerable People

Though it is a huge social assistance program, I think we will need to drag on doing it as long as required […] for this year, we have a period of six months to go. Should Covid-19 prolongs thereafter, we must continue. I am calling on our people to look for jobs themselves that they can do, except old aged and underage people, for additional incomes […]. I think this is an explanation for people to see efforts of the Royal Government to look after our people on this matter. Our compatriots may see how responsible this poor country is. This poor country works hard to help its poor and vulnerable people, especially thanks to its decade long saving, mainly the last five years […]

In the 21-June interview, (I mentioned above), interviewee said the program came too slow as the Covid-19 outbreak was since January or February. By then nobody knew not much about Covid-19. Even the World Health Organization had not yet declared emergency for the world. That they said so, those people chose to disregard the Royal Government’s efforts […]

Equity and Transparency in Poverty Data Collections

On this point, I am calling on all of us to make efforts together. My message to provincial authorities and the Ministry of Planning to work and monitor closely (process of poverty data collection) and send it to the Ministry of Economy and Finance […]. Some of our people may not be poor at this time but months later, they may because they could not find jobs […] we must ensure equity and transparency in collecting data regarding poverty […] this country has started from scratch. It would not be fair to compare Cambodia with other countries of different historical background. Some countries has been in peace 200, 100, 60, or 50 years already. As for Cambodia, what had Pol Pot left us?

We have had full peace only from 1998 thanks to our implementation of win-win policy, through which we have been able to score socio-economic development, to reduce poverty, pulling it down to below 10%. We are now concerned how many percentage has Covid-19 brought poverty rate up? It is not a simple matter. This is not an issue only for Cambodia. Countries in the world, including those with advanced economy, also face with this problem. There are great number of people losing jobs applying for benefits. Countries with cash in hands can respond to them. Those without could not because social assistance has to have cash […] it is good that we have cash in hand to respond to this social issue […]

[End of Elaborations 1]

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen!

I would like to take this opportunity to express my appreciation for the participation of all relevant institutions and sub-national authorities who have done their utmost to update the ID Poor system throughout the country to ensure that the real poor receive this allowance. This is done by using an “on-demand” mechanism that allows new enrollment of citizens who were previously not identified due to system failures, or those who have fallen into poverty during the COVID-19 period, to apply for the Equity Card at their commune. The operation of this process has already begun in the rural areas, and the urban areas will be pushed forward.

[Elaborations 2]

Benefit Requests Applicants

On this point, let me reaffirm. There are two type of applicants requesting for benefits. Firstly, some people who have not been included in the first round of poverty assessment. They are entitled to apply for benefits later because they are poor. We may have left them out. Take for instance, there are two or three households left in a village, who are poor but have not been listed under Poor-1 or Poor-2 categories. They are entitled to apply. Another kind of applicants are those who may not have been poor at the time of assessment but would in one or two months later. They are entitled to apply too. We must be serious on this matter to guarantee that our people truly receive benefits from this huge social assistance program.

[End of Elaborations 2]

This official launch of the “Cash Transfer Program for Poor and Vulnerable Households during COVID-19” demonstrates the Cambodian People’s Party-led government under my leadership would never allow any citizen to die of hunger. For this reason, I ask all relevant institutions to strive to implement this social assistance program in a responsible and effective manner. At the same time, I urge all relevant institutions, especially the technical working groups and local authorities to continue to effectively implement the established methods and principles to identify poor households with the aim of ensuring their access to this social assistance program and all other future assistance following the applicable criteria.

[Elaborations 3]

Besides mechanisms permanently functioning at the communal level, we also have working group from the national level that can help monitor effectiveness of the implementation. I am calling on those who lead the working groups in every provinces bring to attention of Deputy Prime Minister HE Aun Pornmoniroth in a timely manner since he is the chief of staff of Cambodia’s economy and finance, where there is only one commander and one Chief of Staff. Some matters, the Chief of Staff or the Minister of Economy and Finance can settle in his capacity. Some needed to have decisions from commander or the Prime Minister. Let us all monitor identification and assessment process of households in poverty to make sure that no one is left out.

[End of Elaborations 3]

At the same time, I encourage continued efforts to implement all existing social protection programs smoothly and punctually, including: Social Security for Civil Servants and Veterans and Allowances for poor people with disabilities at the community, Health Equity Funds, Health Insurance Scheme for Civil Servants, Healthcare and Employment Injury for Workers, Cash Transfer Program for Pregnant Women and Children under 2 years old, and School Feeding Program which was adapted to distribute rice to poor households in their communities.

[Elaborations 4]

Continue to Implement Other Social Equity Programs

We are talking about social equity programs that we have been implementing. We will continue to observe free of charge medical checkup and treatment, for instance. I received a report from Minister of Labor and Vocational Training about increasing number of female workers delivering babies. The spike could have happened perhaps since before Covid-19 […] because of Covid-19, in 2021, we may expect higher birthrate […] we have set out numerous programs already and this today is a new one. Social equity programs we set out so far – such as cash for women of poor households in pregnancy and delivery, etc., will keep going on a permanent basis. We do not backtrack. Except for this program that we launched today that is extraordinary and applicable in the time of Covid-19 only […]

Building Fees Should Go Down for Education Foundations

We have talked a lot already on this issue. I also saw that the National Bank has been working on this matter. Let me take this chance to appeal to owners of buildings (leased out to education foundations) to scale their fee down. Previously I appeal as a whole. As we can see now that hotels have also brought their price down. In restaurants, some has offered 30% or even 50% discounts. Some educational foundations with their own buildings have had no problem. However, those on rents, do. In time of crisis, I am calling on owner of those buildings to be flexible and apply understanding with those foundations […]

Loans Reorganizations for Private Educational Foundations

On another front, the National Bank of Cambodia should discuss with private banks and other banks. I already instructed in writing to Deputy Prime Minister Aun Pornmoniroth, Senior Minister Hang Chuon Naron, NBC Governor Chea Chanto about loans reorganizing. We have reorganized loans for over 100,000 households already. I am calling on concerned parties to include loans reorganizations for private educational foundations. They have put in collateral what they have already. They do not have anything left to deposit for a new loan. Can we reorganize loans for them? For instance, of the collateral that is worth five million USD, they took loan 500,000 USD, maybe the bank can allow another 300,000 USD perhaps further. For what they would use it? Some have not had online teaching program because they do not have fund […]

More Money in Banks, Less Borrowers

There have been some going around telling people to withdraw money from banks. People do not seem to follow their advice. Some banks seem to have money that there are no borrowers. Some abroad have wished for banks in Cambodia to fall by calling people to make no (interests) payments to and to withdraw money from banks. They must have been very disappointed. From my part, I am calling on banks to exercise understanding in time of difficulty but people must repay banks. As for those who fooled people around to make no repayment to banks, I favor banks to bring the case to court and/or confiscation to happen should there be people who follow advice of those politicians […]

I do not wish confiscation to happen, though. I used to say already that there should not be any confiscation during Covid-19 period. However, if they continue to spread propaganda for people who owed banks never to repay them, […] suing them to the courts for confiscation would be the option […] we are asking banks to reorganize loans because we have brought down reserve requirement from 12.5% to only 7% […] as of this moment, some banks complained there are no borrowers. People are not heeding advice of some fools to draw their money out of banks. This has indicated confidence in the management of the Royal Government […]

Post Covid-19 Economic Restoration, Food Security, Traffics Congested

We are prepared with own fund and working with partners for restoration in the post Covid-19 period. We have already started what we called stimulus package through continuing infrastructural development projects using both own investment funds and fund from abroad. We also place cash flow in the rural area to resolve both economic and social interrelated issues.

We are promoting agriculture. This year, in Covid-19 crisis, we could export more rice. While before we exported between 40,000 to 50,000 metric tons of rice per year, this year we do 80,000 metric tons. No matter what, Cambodia is equipped with its strong point of having an annual surplus of nearly six million metric tons of rice. We have millions of hectares of cultivable land. We just recorded rainy season rice cultivation of 1.5 million hectares already. In weeks to come, in July especially, people harvest their dry season rice. Cambodia is going to be food secured. Negotiation is undergoing with Timor-Leste on a rice trade deal […]

Traffics again congested with cars. When we appeal for people to stay home if there were no necessary things to do in time of Covid-19 outbreak, there were not many people in the streets. They heeded the appeal. Now, they came back full and congestion returns […]

We are working with partners such as Asian Development Bank, World Bank, Asian Infrastructural Investment Banks (AIIB) with whom we are negotiating for 250 million USD for rural asphalt roads works. More asphalted roads in rural areas, we will be able to score more development. We are working with China, Japan, and EU, who just announced about 60 million USD for restoration works. It is under discussion. We also are working with South Korea. I have spoken more than reading to make sure we understand better […]

[End of Elaborations 4]

Last but not least, I would like to express my sincere thanks to all relevant government ministries and development partners who have been actively involved in the creation of this essential program. I sincerely hope that this cash transfer program will contribute to the well-being of the poor during the fight against COVID-19. At the same time, I call on every Cambodian citizen across the country to remain vigilant in preventing the spread of this deadly COVID-19 epidemic by adhering to the principle of social distancing and all other measures as determined by the Ministry of Health.

In conclusion, I would like to wish Samdech, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, and all Cambodian citizens the four gems of Buddhist blessing: Longevity, Nobility, Health and Strength. I declare the official launch of “Cash Transfer Program for Poor and Vulnerable Households during COVID-19”.

Thank you!