THE Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel) has organised five local public forums to facilitate discussion between commune councils and their constituents in Svay Rieng, Kratie, Siem Reap, Banteay Meanchey and Kampong Chhnang provinces to be held from today through September 25.
Net Kimchorn, Comfrel's provincial secretary in Svay Rieng, who will be presiding over the first forum in the Romdoul district, said that the forum's goal is to enhance people's participation in community development.
"The aim is to give people the chance to raise their concerns, needs, suggestion and solutions and also to keep the commune councils accountable to their voters when it comes to good governance and local decentralisation," she said.
"Comfrel wants this local forum to give voters the chance to meet with their commune councils," said Net Kimchorn, adding that people are now more aware of their rights and "dare to make requests" from their commune councils such as to build roads, wells, schools and clinics.
But Nouth Sa An, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior, said that the public forum between commune councils and the people is unnecessary.
"I agree that our government has never organised a public forum, but [with our decentralisation and de-concentration policy] the commune councils and their relationships with the people are very good and open in the whole region," he said, referring to the government's ongoing decentralisation project, which seeks to devolve greater administrative power to the provinces and make local government more responsive.
Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay said that he welcomes Comfrel's contribution in organising the public forum and urged other NGOs to also get involved to help hold commune council members accountable and to clarify their function.
"The commune councils do not have the authority to make any development decisions even though this is specified under the law because development is under the control of the Cambodian People's Party and [Interior Ministry]," Son Chhay said.
"The decision makers are not worried about the people, they are afraid of the CPP and [ministry]," he said, adding that SRP officials will attend the forums.