THE UN's model decentralization program in Cambodia, known as the Seila Task
Force (STF), has come into conflict with some government ministries over issues
ranging from execution of rural development projects to financing of commune
The matters reached such a pass recently that Prime Minister
Hun Sen intervened in one clash between STF and the Ministry of Rural
Development (MRD) over a $30 million donor-funded northwest rural development
project. Hun Sen selected the ministry to run the project amid STF complaints
that it might not be "in line with the kingdom's [overall] decentralization
"Seventy per cent of the project comprised building rural roads
over which there was no conflict. The differences concerned only the community
development component," said an STF source, adding that STF felt its model was
In a separate incident, the Ministry of the Interior (MoI)
complained that STF had cornered "two-thirds of the $6.4 million Commune Fund
for 2002" for the 506 communes it will support.
The function of the
Commune Fund, which was set up by the Ministry of Economy and Finance with $5
million of government money and the balance from donors, is to support commune
councils in their first year of operation.
The MoI was annoyed that the
majority of the cash would go to only one third of the country's commune
The fund will provide each commune with around $1,400 to meet
administrative expenses, depending on population size and poverty indicators.
However, each of the STF-supported communes will be given an additional $8,400
"That translates into almost $5 million to the 506 Seila
communes alone. Does that mean the other 1,115 communes will not require any
development in the first year of their functioning?" complained a senior
ministry official. "Giving them such a big share at the cost of others is not
Scott Leiper, head of STF, said that communes should not be seen
as Seila and non-Seila entities.
"Seila only mobilizes resources [for the
communes supported by it] and transfers them to the executing agencies at the
provincial, district or commune level, while monitoring implementation of the
contracts," he said.
Leiper said the sole reason why Seila-supported
communes garnered additional development grants was that they alone submitted
the development budgets prepared by the Commune Development Committees (CDC) in
consultation with local villagers.
Leng Vy, chief of the newly
established Department of Local Administration (Dola) in the MoI, admitted
serious differences had cropped up during Dola's last meeting over funding of
communes, but said the matter was being resolved at the highest level. Since the
government had agreed to STF's five year (2001-2005) development plan, it could
not jeopardize development in those communes, he said.
[STF and Dola] have to be integrated and brought under the government's overall
plan for decentralization," he said.
Dola, which was set up by the MoI
in July to help implement the commune administration law, is also responsible
for implementing the decentralization process and is, therefore, the
government's focal point for all such efforts. Observers said the MoI felt STF
was creating a parallel system competing against Dola communes before they had a
chance to attain the same level.
The new commune councils will have three
sources of finance. Government revenues will be the most important initial
source of funding, allocated through the Ministry of Economy and Finance (MEF).
Raising local taxes and funding for specific projects, such as schools, would
Dola's Vy told the Post it wanted between 3 and 5 percent of
the national budget, but said the MEF has committed to only 2 percent thus
"We need to draft laws to enable communes to collect local taxes
[like property tax], but that's a long, drawn-out process. Possibly by 2005
communes will be able to adopt their own revenue generating models to become
self-sufficient," Vy said.
Until then the third source of funding will be
funding for specific projects from government agencies and ministries,
particularly the Ministry of Rural Development.
The most pressing need
before the National Committee for the Support of Communes (NCSC) is to finalize
training material and schedules for the training of councilors and staff. Since
they will have different backgrounds and levels of education, devising material
to serve them will be a tough task, said Dola.
"By the year-end we plan
to hold a round-table liaison meeting with NGOs working in the field of
decentralization to finalize the training schedule," he said.
By the end
of November NCSC will have held its fifth meeting to help prepare its commune
development plan. Another problem to be resolved is that commune law states that
all commune councils must have finalized and adopted internal rules for
operation before they can start their tasks.