Cambodia is the first leg of my Asia trip. This is a country that has already grown by leaps and bounds, and now stands at the frontier of becoming an emerging market economy in the heart of the most dynamic hub of the global economy.
I could feel this energy and excitement everywhere. Cambodians, especially young Cambodians, have big dreams and substantial societal aspirations. They want dignity and respect, so that they can fulfill their potential, both as individuals and as a nation. They want to embrace the wider world and all that it has to offer. They want good governance and strong institutions, which are essential to underpin economic development, empower people and ensure that prosperity is broadly shared.
I heard these themes consistently—from inspiring women leaders, from dynamic young economists, and from the students at the Royal School of Administration, where I gave a speech on how Cambodia can keep its forward momentum.
I was very encouraged by my discussions with the authorities. I believe they are resolved to stay on the road of macroeconomic stability and economic growth, to invest in skills and education, and to lay down a firm foundation of good governance.[caption id="attachment_6691" align="alignright" width="320"] International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde (L) shakes hands with King Norodom Sihamoni (R) following their meeting at the Royal Palace December 3, 2013 in Phom Penh, Cambodia. Lagarde is on a three country visit to Asia. IMF Photograph/Stephen Jaffe[/caption]
One of the highlights of my visit was a Royal Audience with King Sihamoni. I came away deeply moved by his thoughtfulness and compassion. This is a monarch who not only cares deeply about the welfare of his people, but is clearly passionately devoted to promoting the cultural and artistic heritage of his country—and Cambodia has a heritage second to none.[caption id="attachment_6674" align="alignright" width="320"] International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde watches school girls in the computer room at Toutes à l’Ecole school December 3, 2013 in Kandal province of Cambodia. Lagarde is on a three country visit to Asia. IMF Photograph/Stephen Jaffe[/caption]
I was truly touched by a visit to a school run by an NGO that is focused on educating girls and young women. These beautiful young girls come from underprivileged backgrounds, and are being granted a first-rate education in a zone of safety and security. They are being given an opportunity to obtain the tools for a better future, have their voices heard, and make their mark; an opportunity that for many of them would be but a dream without this unique school.
I told everyone I met that the IMF is here to listen to them and to help as they find useful—that we really value our partnership with Cambodia. We have stood with Cambodia through its transition, especially with capacity building and technical assistance.
I was glad to learn that the IMF’s role is greatly valued in Cambodia. In addition to capacity building, an example that quite a few people raised with me involves rice field irrigation! Not exactly something usually associated with the IMF. But Cambodia used the resources freed up by IMF debt relief to invest in an irrigation scheme that completely transformed the country’s rice production, turning it from a net importer to a net exporter of rice. For me, this was a perfect example of partnership in action, of the multi-layered benefits that can result when we work with a member country like Cambodia that has full ownership of its economic program.
Overall, I was truly inspired to see how confidently Cambodia has escaped its post-conflict past. It is now truly at the frontier of great economic transformation.
For a more detailed look at the IMF’s technical assistance program in Cambodia, watch this video: