This is the fourth in an ongoing series of articles by Rajesh Kumar chronicling
preparations and developments for the commune elections scheduled for February 3,
After remaining on paper since its constitution by a Royal decree on May 18, the
National Committee to Support Communes (NCSC) held its first meeting on July 2 to
begin the process of creating linkages between commune councils and the central and
Established in accordance with Article 87/Chapter 9 of the Commune Administration
Law, the inter-ministerial committee headed by the co-Ministers of Interior will
also assist newly-elected commune councils to formulate and regulate the implementation
of fiscal and administrative decentralization.
The process, considered a potential model for political, economic and administrative
decentralization, is being closely monitored by funding agencies and the NGOs assisting
But decentralization and the relationship it creates between communes and provincial
and federal governments is described by donors as potentially problematic.
"For instance, the elected commune councilors can not be under the government-appointed
provincial authorities," said Scott Leiper, Programme Manager of the UNDP-funded
SEILA decentralization program.
"The councilors can only be answerable to another elected body, which is the
national assembly. Since the communes will still be required to interact with provincial
authorities for various administrative and governance reasons, the latter will have
to understand that they are working on behalf of the federal government."
Commune councils' relationship with villages and village chiefs is also yet to be
clearly defined. Leiper says that though conceptual changes are likely to take time,
the linkages to be established by the NCSC could smooth the initial stages of this
According to Sok Setha, Director General of Administration in the Ministry of Interior
(MoI) and a permanent committee member, the NCSC's immediate task would be to prepare
a code of ethics for the newly elected commune councilors. Formulation and implementation
of fiscal models for local taxes, and the reorganization of commune boundaries are
also high priority issues.
"After the war, the land division was made for security reasons and for an easier
administrative control... but the size of the communes and resource allocation to
them is not equal," Setha said.
"After the commune elections, we'll need to review commune boundaries and reorganize
them before the second commune elections."
The NCSC will also be responsible for monitoring the pace of urbanization in the
communes. The committee will draft policies and urban planning strategies to ensure
support services keep pace with development in communes.
"To make sure that these [diverse] subjects are handled by experts, the NCSC
will set up five sub-committees on subjects like finance; commune boundaries reorganization
and urbanization; power structure, systems and functions of the commune councils
and development," said Leng Vy, Deputy Director of the MoI's Department of General
Administration. "Each of these sub-committees will be headed by at least the
Secretary of State level official. The [respective] ministries will be allowed to
bring in the technical experts [on the above subjects] at the NCSC meetings."
Dr David Ayers of the Commune Council Support Project (CCSP) termed the formation
of the NCSC as an important step in the national decentralization process. The advantage
of having a inter-ministerial committee like the NCSC, he said, was that the process
would become more participative and the orders and decisions would not end up being
handed down by the MoI.
"The common perception is that the whole agenda of decentralization is being
driven by the MoI... the idea behind the NCSC however is to ensure that all stake
holders [within the government] become a part of the process," he said.
Critics maintain that the MoI's proposal to set up a Department of Local Administration
(DOLA) will tightly control the NCSC and negate much of the effect of the NCSC's
NCSC is also entrusted with the power to intervene on behalf of the central government
on any perceived illegal control of the commune council. It is also responsible for
examining the suspension of any councilor or recommend dissolution for the purpose
of re-election of a commune council while taking control of commune administration
in the intervening period.
At a July 2 meeting attended by donor and media representatives, Mr Setha sought
to allay concerns about both the NCSC and DOLA, saying decentralization was a new
experience for the Cambodian government.
"There are no experiences, lessons, or technical [know how]... the NCSC will
therefore try to pool the expertise and co-ordinate between the government and donor
community in completing [its mandate]," he said.
The committee - including Minister of the Council of Ministers Sok An and representatives
from the Ministries of Planning, Rural Development, Economy and Finance, Land Management
and Women's Affairs - will have the power to make recommendations to the Ministry
of Interior or the Royal government on matters including:
- Division of powers, functions and duties between the royal government and inter-communal
- Capacity development of commune councils, organization of commune revenues and
taxes and rendering technical assistance to commune councils.
- Recommendations to the government regarding implementation of the system of decentralization
in accordance with the Commune Administration Law and to provide recommendations
concerning administrative reforms.
- The drafting of statutory norms and standards for enforcing the law and to determine
transitional administration over communes which lack capacity for implementing a
policy of decentralization.
All sub-decrees that will subsequently be issued to further define the role or
tasks of Commune Councils will also have to go through the NCSC.
The new economic and administrative structures as decided by the NCSC are likely
to borrow extensively from the experiences of the UNDP-funded SIELA program.