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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - NCSC shoulders intergovernmental relations

NCSC shoulders intergovernmental relations

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,

2002.

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

provincial governments.

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

decentralization efforts.

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

relationship.

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

plurality.

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

    cooperation/co-ordination.

  • 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.

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