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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - CPP misusing WB funds as political capital, says Comfrel

CPP misusing WB funds as political capital, says Comfrel

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cpp.jpg

Rural development projects, such as road improvements are generally completed with donor assistance. But some watchdogs claim the CPP is taking credit for them.

A local election monitoring NGO and the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) have blasted

the application of more than $36 million worth of World Bank decentralization aid,

saying its achievements are being used as political propaganda by the ruling Cambodian

People's Party (CPP).

Simply put, analysts are questioning the logic in awarding decentralization funding

to CPP commune chiefs who belong to the centralized power network of the CPP juggernaut.

Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia

(Comfrel) , told the Post on August 3 that civil society is increasingly concerned

that foreign assistance earmarked for the development of Cambodia's more than 1,600

communes was under an influence of the CPP. Officials at the Ministry of Interior

(MoI) have denied the allegations.

"Because of a lack of explanation about foreign aid and a lack of checks and

balances, the CPP has claimed all of the achievements in developing communes as their

own achievements in order to gain popularity and votes," Panha said.

Panha cited a recent Prime Minister Hun Sen speech in which he told the public that

if the CPP lost the 2008 election, there would be no more development projects. According

to Panha, media broadcasts never explain that some achievements in infrastructure

construction at the commune level were possible only with the financial assistance

of donor nations.

"The achievements of the communes must not be viewed as the result of one party,"

Panha said.

The CPP, Funcinpec and the SRP all won seats in the commune council elections of

April 2007. The CPP dominated: winning more than 95 percent of the total 1,621 commune

chief positions, but the SRP won a significant 25.5 percent of the commune council

seats.

Now, Kuoy Bunroeun, SRP parliamentarian, said that after the election the roles and

obligations of the commune council members were not shared in accordance with the

law.

Bunroeun said there were discrepancies in power sharing. For example, he said, the

first deputy commune chief should be in charge of public finances and the second

deputy commune chief should be responsible for security.

"I see that there are contradictions between what the law says and the real

implementation of decentralization," Bunroeun said. "The power is still

in the hands of the CPP."

He said that the objective of decentralization is to transfer power from the central

government to local officials, but the implementation is not in line with the objective

of the donors and the strengthening of democracy.

"We knew that 98 percent of the total 1,621 commune chief [positions] are controlled

by the CPP and the CPP have not shared appropriate power to the SRP," Bunroeun

said.

Bunroeun said that corruption always impacts the financial assistance of donor countries

and reduces the quality of development.

"The people are confused about the development projects in their own communes,

and the CPP is using the achievements of the donors for their own popularity,"

Bunroeun said.

The Washington DC-based World Bank announced on July 27 that it had approved $36.2

million in grants for decentralization and commune development. The grant package

comes with an additional $22 million in financing for rural investment and local

governance projects provided from 2003 to 2007.

Sak Sitha (CPP), general director of administration for the Ministry of Interior,

told the Post on August 7 that decentralization reform has proceeded according to

the law.

He said the development benchmarks in the communes could not be used for political

purposes because all the budget and proposals were approved by the commune councils.

"I think [this allegation] is just a political ploy by other parties. There

are no problems with the work being done at the local levels," Sitha said. "We

have had a lot of support from our partners for decentralization reform."

He said that the transfer of power from the central government to the lower levels

was proceeding according to the proposed budget, and that the Ministry of Interior

releases about $50 million for rural development projects in the communes each year.

But Bunroeun said that each commune receives an annual budget between $80,000 and

$100,000, and that commune chiefs always work closely with clerks appointed by the

MoI and loyal to the CPP.

The World Bank's country assistance strategy for Cambodia 2005-2008 recognized governance

issues as the primary obstacles to growth, poverty reduction, and aid effectiveness.

According to earlier statements, the Bank supports decentralization as a means to

improve local governance and accountability.

Panha said that although reform of local governance has been stressed since 1998,

he's found that many commune chiefs have not changed their behavior and still adhere

to a strict system of obedience to higher-ranking party members.

"I think that the decentralization will never be a success if the members of

the commune council do not change their current behavior and continue to think that

their political party is of primary importance to them," Panha said.

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