While gains have been made since initial socioeconomic survey five years ago, more transparency needed, monitors say
RECORD high inflation is hurting efforts to implement a sweeping decentralisation program aimed at devolving more power to commune-level governments, which are faltering under the increasing costs of administering their localities.
"High inflation was observed in many of the [decentralisation] project's villages. It will badly affect citizens if it continues increasing," said a report released last week by the National Committee for Management of Decentralisation and De-concentration Reform (NCDD), which urged the government to "take action against this problem immediately".
we want the local villagers to [act] as a watchdog of the commune councils.
The report was the first assessment since the initial decentralisation baseline survey was conducted five years ago.
NCDD Deputy Director Ngan Chamroeun said that the government and about 20 other development partners spend between US$75 million and $80 million each year implementing decentralisation programs in the Kingdom's 1,621 communes.
While some gains have been made, compared with the 2003 baseline study, wage increases have been largely cancelled out by the rising costs of goods and services.
Inflation in Cambodia has spiralled over the past year into the double digits, with some officials estimating it to be as high as 25 percent.
This has pushed hundreds of thousands of Cambodians below the poverty line as the price of food and other commodities climbs out of their reach.
On the commune level, rising inflation has kept local administrators from being able to address the needs of their constituents, from health and education services to the construction of roads and other infrastructure.
In other areas, a lack of information made it difficult to measure what gains had been made during the past five years.
"We are not yet able to evaluate the impact of our delivery of projects at the local level, whether they have had a positive or negative impact on the reduction of poverty," Ngan Chamroeun said.
Officials with the Cambodian election monitor Comfrel, which has been heavily involved in commune administration since the first local polls in 2002, urged greater participation from villagers in their commune councils if the decentralisation efforts were to work.
Comfrel Executive Director Koul Panha said that about 70 percent of the commune councils had little village input.
"We want the local villagers to participate as a watchdog for the work of the commune councils," he said.
"While positive progress has been made, there are still fundamental weaknesses in their constituencies," he told the Post.