Keeping an eye on an upcoming 2019 internal deadline, Interior Minister Sar Kheng yesterday lamented the slow progress made by ministries to decentralise authority to local governments.
Decentralisation has been singled out for years by the government as a key reform measure, but Kheng said that while ministries had been given the authority to delegate responsibilities down the chain of command, the response had been far from satisfactory.
“Certain ministries have committed to transferring specific functions, but there are some ministries who continue to hesitate to take the decision to transfer work to the sub-national administration,” he said.
To push the process along, he said the Interior Ministry’s National Committee for Sub-National Democratic Development (NCDD) would identify priority sectors and related line ministries, and suggest actions that would help the government to take decisions.
Kheng went on to call out the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries as an example of administrative mismanagement leading to flawed decentralisation, explaining that at the provincial level, forestry and fisheries departments were not under the supervision of the agricultural department, preventing the bodies from working in unison.
The risk was all the greater, he continued, because “there can be some opportunists who will take this opportunity to destroy the forests, fisheries and other resources”.
“This is a sensitive issue, as it could affect the effectiveness of the ministry’s work,” he said.
Ngann Chamroeun, deputy head of the secretariat of the NCDD, said that in order for the Agriculture Ministry to properly decentralise its authority, its local departments must first take control over local forestry and fisheries administrations.
“So we need to amend the existing laws to not allow the administration of fisheries and forestry to be so independent, and that is why we want to merge them under the agriculture department,” he added.
San Chhay, coordinator of the Affiliated Network For Social Accountability, said that there would be hesitancy to relinquish power to local governments, given that officials would have to give up their administrative might.
He added that ministries would also have to loosen the purse strings in order to fund the added responsibilities taken on by the sub-national administration.
CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay said he welcomed efforts at decentralisation, but added that there must be real action on the ground and repercussions for ministries that dragged their feet.