The problems of drugs, organised crime, youth gangs, traffic accidents, thefts and robberies, violence and illegal gambling are all still happening in some villages and communes even as the effort to prevent them and education about these problems continues through “safe village-commune policy”.
These problems have caused people to have to live their lives in fear, whether they are rich or poor, city-dwellers or rural farmers, and the solutions for these problems require that the authorities at all levels – especially the newly elected commune council members – take into consideration the need for a policy that goes even further.
The government on January 25, 2021, launched its amended “safe village-commune policy” reducing nine-point measures to just seven, with the Ministry of Interior overseeing the initiative. This policy has been widely discussed in the public and private sectors, among stakeholders and between citizens seeking to help implement it and contribute towards its success, but unfortunately if we examine the facts of the situation the policy’s actual impact seems to be limited.
The essential steps the government must take or accomplish according to the “safe village-commune policy” are as follows:
First, provide public services, especially administrative services, with quality, transparency and trustworthiness. Second, eliminate crime, theft, robbery, drugs, gambling and all other kinds of crimes. Third, maintain good public order and do whatever is necessary to prevent traffic accidents.
Fourth, discourage immorality, end all human trafficking – especially that of women and children – and make sure that no domestic violence is tolerated, nor any gangsters. Fifth, high quality and efficient out-of-court dispute resolution mechanisms must be created.
Sixth, encourage good hygiene and maintain beautiful and clean environments. Seventh, respond in a timely manner to all disasters and epidemics effectively.
Keo Mealea, president of the Scholar Association for Peace, said the safe village-commune policy was difficult to implement because local officials were less active than they should be and some police officials had allegedly made deals with the criminals and are turning a blind eye and not cracking down on drug trafficking and sales, even releasing some perpetrators after they are arrested.
He added that the unemployment rate in the villages, communes and districts was high due to the lack of development and the lack of community organisation.
“Sometimes, people see thieves breaking down doors or climbing through windows, but they don’t dare try to stop them or alert anyone,” he said.
He added that it was unlike in the 1980’s and 1990’s, when people knocked on drums to rouse their neighbours and chase down thieves and there was no safe village-commune policy yet, but people had their own plans.
“On the other hand, hundreds of tonnes of drugs have been seized and the drug addicts are still using and the gangsters are still there. Actually, people are afraid of gangsters and drug addicts. Drug addicts are not afraid to die, sometimes they sniff glue and hold swords in front of them, but no one dares to do anything,” he said.
Loeung Sothy, a resident of Stung Meanchey district, said the authorities’ implementation of this policy seemed to be ineffective because there was still theft, drugs, gangs, a lack of public order and environmental problems in the local community.
“Along the way that I go to work there are still a lot of gangsters and sometimes I see children using drugs. Authorities do not seem to pay much attention to solving these problems. I think it’s also the same in other areas. I would request that the local authorities strengthen this policy for the safety of the people,” he said.
However, the implementation of this policy does vary significantly from one commune to the next. Many communes have reportedly been successful in improving public safety, such as Kampong Trabek district’s Kansaom Ak commune in Prey Veng province.
Kansaom Ak commune chief Heng Srey Pov of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) told The Post that her commune always receives the top award every year due to good security, safety and public order in the commune and the high level of cooperation between village security guards, residents and police officers.
“When there is a case of theft or robbery, we cooperate directly. But in my commune now, there seems to be no such cases taking place. That is the reason why our commune is always receiving first place awards,” she said.
‘Not 100 per cent perfect’
Interior ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak told The Post that the government’s implementation of the safe village-commune policy was not 100 per cent perfect and it was still lacking in some areas, but the authorities are always trying to improve local policing in order to alleviate people’s fairs.
Sopheak acknowledged that there is still violence and there are still gangs in some communes, but he claimed these problems were less and less each year and the best communes get awards from the government on their performance related to this policy, which showed that the provincial and national governments were paying attention to its implementation.
In response to the question if there is corruption or collusion between some perpetrators and police officers, Sopheak said that all of these issues may exist on an isolated basis limited to certain communes, but he said that there is no systematic policy of allowing offenders to operate without consequences.
“As a principle, all officials – whether they are district chief, commune chief, police chief or others, and even those who are not members of the Cambodian People’s Party – have a responsibility in serving and protecting the local people and ensuring their safety. However, with this commune council election there were also members from other parties elected too, so it’s not an issue for just one party but all of us together will be serving the people,” he said.
Regarding the implementation of the safe village-commune policy, National Police spokesman Chhay Kim Khoeun said that the intention of the policy was that there would be no crimes, no violence, no offences, no drug crimes, no thefts and no robberies at all, but the implementation of the policy was not yet perfect.
“We cannot say it’s perfect yet. Besides, there is no country in the world without crime, it’s just a matter of more or less crime. If a village-commune has no offences recorded then it is called a safe village-commune. The village-commune with very few offences which they are able to suppress is also called a safe village-commune. It’s just a classification,” he said.
Mao Sivorn, chief of Prek Thmei commune in the capital’s Chbar Ampov district, said that in implementing the seven points of the “safe village-commune policy” the government has set, he always looks to strengthen its implementation by disseminating information on it through public forums to get people to participate by helping to maintain local community safety.
“We try to spread the word about the issues with drugs and gangs,” he said.
At the same time, he always allows people in each locality to provide information to the authorities to intervene in connection with any problems such as gangsters, thefts or illegal gambling that causes a breakdown in public order and affects their living standards.
According to the documents of the “safe village-commune policy”, the maintenance of peace, political stability, security and public order are the key factors that favour the progress of the economy, society and all development in line with the political programme and the rectangular strategy used at all levels of government.
Despite the relative abundance of peace and stability, the issues of security and public order along with the people’s wellbeing and the provision of essential services remain priorities to ensure the safety and well-being of all people and society as a whole to live in harmony.
In order to respond to the current situation and mobilise more support, the government has decided to improve the qualifications of the “safe village-commune policy” and raise the policy to the national government level, which aims to fulfil the following suggestions:
The policy document said first the government continues to build and strengthen security and social order, improve sanitation, the environment and the wellbeing of the people and reduce the dangers caused by natural disasters and epidemics in all circumstances.
The government also plans to encourage non-judicial dispute resolution mechanisms to ease the process of socio-economic development at the local level and bring about accelerated poverty reduction.
Second, create a total force, total measures and total means of implementing the “safe village-commune policy” by inspiring cooperation with the authorities from the public sector, the private sector, stakeholders and people across the country.