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World Bank launches accountability program

"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,"

she said.

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."



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