Villagers took an increasingly vocal stand on land issues during rare opportunities to speak with National Assembly members this past year, according to the National Democratic Institute.
During the most recent town hall-style Constituency Dialogues, started by NDI in 2004 to promote contact between assembly members and communities, almost all constituents focused on land rights, with some travelling dozens of kilometres to voice their concerns, NDI director Laura Thornton said at a presentation on the dialogues report yesterday.
Between November 2011 and September 2012, about 7,500 people, including 25 legislators, participated in 14 dialogues in eight provinces chosen for their multi-party representation in the National Assembly, according to NDI’s report.
“In Kratie, a woman traveled … from almost 70km away in order to complain about a land concession to the Vietnamese Dai Nam company displacing many families from their land,” the report says.
Previous attempts by the woman’s community to seek help from authorities had gone unanswered, NDI reports, noting that “elected parliamentarians have limited knowledge of their constituencies, and the assembly falls short in representing the needs and interests of their voters”.
“Three-quarters of Cambodians have no idea what parliament is,” said Thornton.
To improve this situation, the dialogues “encourage two-way communication and are unscripted, allowing for often challenging questions and demands from citizens,” the report says.
For example, one man in Kratie asked: “Since 85 per cent of the citizens are farmers, how could development occur through 99-year land leases?”
The report finds that parliamentarians’ responses adhered closely to party lines, with ruling party CPP members stressing that concessions follow the “rule of law” and opposition members decrying foreign companies’ encroachment.
Nevertheless, NDI observed several instances after the dialogues in which members from each of the major parties heeded constituents’ complaints.
Both a CPP member in Takeo province and an SRP member in Kandal province, for example, asked local authorities to stop sand dredging projects after hearing complaints.
The report concludes by urging assembly members to take more initiative to reach out to constituents.
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