Opposition leader Kem Sokha said on Saturday his party would shutter the Rural Development Ministry and put the savings towards the goal of funding each of Cambodia’s more than 1,600 commune councils with half a million dollars a year if it wins power in 2018.
Speaking to supporters during the opening on Saturday of the opposition’s campaign for the June 4 commune election, Sokha said that the ministry, which has been criticised in the past for duplicating the duties of other ministries, was of little use to most people. “[If] the commune had the money to build and we decided to do it by ourselves, then there would be no need to depend on Ministry of Rural Development,” Sokha said. “Do brothers and sisters dare to handle this job? If we can do it, do we need to keep the Ministry of Rural Development? Cancel it.”
But Rural Development Ministry Secretary of State Sous Kong slammed the idea, taking to Facebook to describe it as “ridiculous” because his ministry had overseen the construction of more than 44,000 kilometres of roads. “Does he know the duties of the Ministry of Rural Development?” Kong asked. “It’s OK if he does not know.”
The ministry’s spokesman, Chan Darong, added by telephone yesterday that the government and the Rural Development Ministry were already financing projects totalling more than $500,000 per year in each commune.
“It is much more than $500,000, which is spent to develop all kinds of services,” he said, adding that the ministry had also provided nearly 60 percent of villagers around the country with access to sanitation services.
“We have not completed 100 percent, but we have done a lot,” Darong said. “If there is no ministry to sit, think, study and provide services, who will do the work? Therefore, how can we reduce poverty?”
Yet others were less convinced. San Chey, executive director of good governance NGO ANSA, said many of the Rural Development Ministry’s duties could be more efficiently carried out by the Ministry of Public Works and Transport and the Ministry of Agriculture. “I think the idea [of eliminating the ministry] is appropriate, but there must be a study about the sharing of responsibilities” after the ministry’s closure, Chey said.
Polin Phang, executive director of Sustainable Cambodia, said his group had a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Rural Development to carry out some projects, but most of his staff only interacted with local authorities. “We deal with [people] at the grassroots level,” he said.
Additional reporting by Phak Seangly