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Commune law change

Dear Editor,

The Law on Administration of Communes, passed by the National Assembly on Friday

12 January, is a worrying matter for those who were hoping that the election of Commune

Councils, and local governance reforms, would deliver to Cambodia a more responsive

and accountable government.

The concern has been expressed for some time that the involvement of political parties

in the local government elections would make them less participatory, accountable

and effective than they might otherwise have been. The fear was that commune councillors

who are members of political parties would be more concerned with answering to their

political bosses than they would be responding to the needs of their constituents.

The law as passed by the National Assembly now virtually guarantees that this will

be the case. Article 16 of the law now includes the provision that a commune councillor

will lose his/her place on the council if he/she "loses membership of his/her

politicial party".

What does this mean? It means that if commune councillors, no matter how effective

they are in serving their constituents, fall out of favour with their political masters,

they might lose their spot on the council. It means that every time a commune councillor

makes a decision, the councillor needs to be sure the decision is supported at the

highest party levels.

Where is the "participatory democracy" preached by the Ministry of Interior

in its "Memorandum Outline of the Scope and Content of Decentralisation."

How do such measures bring "government closer to the people"? One might

try to be positive about the potential benefits of local governance in Cambodia.

It is very hard to do so, however, when the law demonstrates so clearly that local

governance reforms are only providing a further avenue for dominant political parties

to extend their influence.

- Kim Chhorn, Program Co-ordinator, Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia

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