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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Party politics seen as curse for communes

Party politics seen as curse for communes

THE two main election watchdog NGOs have criticized the government's political decentralization

policy for being short on ensuring accountability within local government because

of political partisanship.

They say local government needs to be able to exercise more power to become more


Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia

(Comfrel) said on May 28 that the commune election law that provided for a system

of proportional representation that allowed only political parties to nominate candidates

to run for commune councils (to the exclusion of independents), was causing disruption

and deadlock to the objective of decentralization.

"A council composed along partisan lines in a politically confrontational environment

on many occasions creates conflicts among the council members from different political

parties, causing disruption, deadlock in their work and increased animosity among

councillors of different parties," he said in a report to the regional forum

of National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), an NGO funded by

the United States Congress.

Sonket Sereyleak, education program co-ordinator at Comfrel, told the Post that individual

commune chiefs and council members believed most of them work for the interests of

political parties rather than the local people.

"I think decentralization means devolution of power from the central level to

local level, but I have seen that more than two years after the commune elections,

the exercise of power remains at the central level," said Sereyleak.

She said the law allowed only political parties to nominate commune chiefs and their

council members, and no independent candidate participation. This meant there was

no electoral competition to serve the interests of local people because individual

members of the commune council were afraid of their party leaders.

"Under the influence of their political parties the decentralization is not

able to make local government more responsible and accountable for meeting local

needs," said Sereyleak.

Hang Puthea, executive director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and

Fair Elections in Cambodia (Nicfec) said that intimidation occurred within the registration

process and election campaign, and the role of the National Election Committee would

need to improve if Cambodia was to have free and fair elections.

Puthea and Panha told a national forum on strengthening local government, organized

by NDI on May 27-28, that political influence of the three main political parties

was still putting pressure on members of the commune councils to respect their party


Participating in the forum were political parties, civil society leaders, elected

representatives of the commune councils, and government officials. The aim was to

agree on a set of recommendations to bolster local government in Cambodia.

The 1,621 commune councils following local elections in February 3, 2002 are shared

as follows among the political parties:

* CPP won 68.4 percent (7,703) of commune council seats, and appointed 1,598 of the

total 1,621 commune chiefs. CPP also appointed 789 first deputy commune chiefs, 154

second deputies and 5,162 councilors.

* Funcinpec won 19.6 percent (2,211) commune council seats which allowed the party

to appoint ten commune chiefs and 547 first deputy commune chiefs, 852 as second

deputy and 802 councilors.

* Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) won 12 percent (1,346) of the seats, appointed 13 commune

chiefs, 285 first deputy chiefs and 615 second deputy chiefs and 433 councilors.

Comfrel and Nicfec and a majority of the members of the commune councilors said in

the forum that there was a lack of financial resources for development at the commune

level, general level of capacity and skill of the councilors and lack of robust legal


Puthea and Panha called on the NEC to reform the law to ensure that independent candidates

can participate in the next commune elecftions in early 2007.

Tep Nytha, secretary general of NEC, said NEC and the UN Development Program (UNDP)

have cooperated to start examining the commune election law and update the voter

list to improve the electoral environment to meet the needs of major stakeholders.

But he declined to give detail about the work of NEC and said he was waiting for

a new National Assembly to be formed.

On the lack of financial resources, NDI wrote that participants found only 2 percent

of the national budget was allocated to the commune councils, while in other democratic

countries allocation to local government units was much higher, ranging from 25 to

45 percent.

The participants said they required at least 25 percent of future national budgets

to be set aside for the councils.

Vang Sokha, deputy director department of local finance at the Ministry of Economy

and Finance, and Sak Setha, director general of the administration department of

the Ministry of Interior, said the government was scheduled to establish rules and

regulations to give effect to the provision in the commune administration law allowing

the councils to raise taxes locally, but the ongoing political deadlock had interrupted

the plan.

Sokha said the contribution of the national budget to commune councils was increased

from 1.2 percent in 2002 to 2.5 percent in 2004. The target of the government was

to put 25 percent of the national budget into local government between 2005-2007,

but he predicted that this would not be achieved. He said the only local revenue

income currently was fees for obtaining birth and marriage certificates.

Some participants at the forum criticized the prevalence of corruption and lack of

transparency at commune level and said higher than stipulated fees were being charged

for obtaining such certificates.

The Rural Investment and Local Governance Project (RILGP) is part of a broader program

supporting decentralization and improved governance, totalling $69.16 million. Of

this, $2 million comes from the International Development Association, one of the

World Bank Group agencies, and the rest co-financed from UNDP, DFID and SIDA; $19

million is helping meet the Government's commitments to the communes and sangkats

2003 to 2006. It supports provision of priority goods and services and promotes good

local governance systems at the commune and provincial level.

Louise Scura, team leader RILGP said in the World Bank's May newsletter that decentralization

is the means to achieve the objective of improved local governance, but decentralization

doesn't necessarily guarantee this.

"It is important in Cambodia to develop the capacity, ability and incentives

at local level to respond to local needs, essentially working to improving local

government to be more responsive, more transparent, and more available to the local

community, making sure the public funds are available and put to best use and ensuring

accountability within the local government structure for the use of funds,"

she said.

Scura said that commune/sangkat fund covered the cost of commune councilor salaries

and administrative costs, as well as priority development projects at the commune

level. The allocation per commune/sangkat on average was about $6,000 to $8,000 depending

on population and rated poverty level.

Communes have identified as their priorities basic rural infrastructure such as roads,

culverts, wells, water supply, sanitation, small-scale irrigation, schools and clinics.

"What they probably don't understand well enough is how essential their role

is in demanding better service delivery by participating in the process and ensuring

their voices are heard, as well as in holding their local government more accountable,"

said Scura.



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