"Good governance is part of our culture, and that's why there's so little corruption,"
HE Ngy Champal, Undersecretary of State, Ministry of Interior, told a full house
attending the launch of a new World Bank "social accountability" program.
He may have thought so, but the some 400 hundred students as well as local and international
NGO officials attending the launch of the World Bank's Program to Enhance Capacity
in Social Accountability (PESCA) didn't agree and were eager for change in the Kingdom's
performance in governance.
World Bank country manager Nisha Agrawal said there is a "climate of fear"
regarding efforts to hold government officials accountable.
"In the villages, you can do this in a way that is non-threatening. Invite the
village chief, invite the police - they will see you are helping everyone,"
Addressing concerns of government reprisal, PECSA program coordinator Dinky Solomon
said, "We all know there are risks involved because there are interests that
could be threatened."
Heng Monychenda, Director of Buddhism for Development, cautioned the audience to
seek lawful governance in baby steps. "Please believe me, we cannot eliminate
corruption. We can reduce it but we cannot eliminate it," he said.
The launch of the program December 3 came just three days before the release of a
new Transparency International bribery survey, in which Cambodia finished second-to-last
out of 60 countries.
PECSA sets out to strengthen civil society as a watchdog and provider of public services
through training programs in global best practices and grants for pilot initiatives
to monitor government spending and private sector transactions, according to the
program's mandate. PESCA organizers also hope the program will encourage more networking
amongst activists and social accountability practitioners.
The event drew particular attention to hot button issues such as the management of
Cambodia's national budget and natural resources, and heard repeated encouragement
to use media to publicly voice grievances. While PESCA seeks to expedite drastic
improvement in the Cambodian government and private sector's governance practices,
local participants had curbed expectations.
Discussing funds allocated for grass roots spending, NGO Forum representative Ou
Sivhouch said, "If the government spends what it says on paper that it will
spend, that would be great. Even if they spend 50% or 60%, that would be great. But
when they spend around 30%, it's a problem."
Student-essay contest winner Chan Rotha encouraged young Cambodians to use all media
outlets to voice their opinion. He criticized the country's entrenched patron-client
system and hierarchical culture wherein "subordinates tend to find it socially
unacceptable to show any contempt for the actions and decisions of their leaders."