Commune officials have expressed renewed concern that widespread political discrimination is corroding local politics
Boeung Keng Kang III's Commune Council building in Phnom Penh.
Mann Choeun, deputy governor of Phnom Penh, urged commune councilors to abandon partisan politics in the name of development. "If you want to improve your people and your commune, you must stop thinking in a partisan way," he said.
RAMPANT political discrimination within the Kingdom's commune councils is derailing development and causing corruption, commune officials say.
"The commune chief told me there were not enough seats in the office for me to attend important meetings," said Heng Sochhada, second deputy commune chief of Prek Pra commune in Phnom Penh's Meanchey district, describing how she was excluded from key decision-making meetings due to her being a Sam Rainsy Party member.
According to Heng Sochhada, since she was elected during the first commune elections in 2002, the commune chief, who has been in the position since 2002 and is a member of the ruling Cambodian People's Party, has consistently refused to cooperate with her for no reason she can discern other than partisan politics.
"I was not allowed to attend meetings on the commune development plan, on budgeting for development projects, and if I attended they would cut the meetings off early," she said.
"It is unfair, as I was elected so that I could serve and improve the lives of people living in Prek Pra commune," she said.
At a conference Wednesday at City Hall to assess the achievements over 2008 of all commune councils within the Phnom Penh municipality, some 700 councilors from 76 communes aired their grievances over the operation of commune councils.
According to Sem Chan, a member of the Boeung Trabek commune council in Phnom Penh's Chamkarmon district, political discrimination is eroding responsibility for local development.
He cited the example of the renovation of Road 123 in his area, when he and his constituents asked the commune chief if they could have an open meeting with the contractor before renovation began.
As the road was to be paid for with 70 percent government funds and with 30 percent provided by residents, locals felt they should be involved in the process, he said. But the commune chief refused to have a public meeting.
"Now, this road that cost more than US$300,000 for 160 metres is completely damaged after the people used it for just four-and-a-half years," said Sem Chan, adding that the lack of oversight caused by partisan politics had allowed corruption into the road renovation process.
Another disgruntled commune council member from Phnom Penh's Stung Meanchey commune said that political discrimination had prevented over 200 known opposition supporters in his commune from having proper identification documents - which then prevented them from voting in the July National Assembly elections.
"The people in my commune told me that the police and commune assistants conspired to demand about $20 from each non-CPP-voting person and if they did not pay they would not get identification documents," said Deouk Chhang.