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Commune councils: how they will work

Commune councils: how they will work

Once the NEC announces the final results of the commune elections, the focus

will shift to Cambodia's newly elected 1,621 commune councils spread over 20

provinces and the four municipalities of Phnom Penh, Kep, Sihanoukville and

Pailin.

Under the commune election law, councils are required to hold

their first meeting within 14 days of the final results, which will be announced

between February 19-22 after considering all objections and recounts.

A

senior official at the Ministry of Interior (MoI) said the first meeting would

be headed by deputy chiefs of the respective districts and would essentially

mark the transfer of the mandate and commune property from CPP-appointed commune

chiefs to the newly elected commune councils.

"Before starting their

work, however, the councils need to prepare a detailed charter of their internal

rules, guidelines and procedures for conducting the council meetings. [The MoI]

will help draft that," he said.

Several organizations including GTZ, UNDP

and the Seila Task Force (STF) have structured a detailed training program to

build the capacity of the new councils.

Three training sessions lasting

up to four days each will begin in March and will teach commune staff how to

prepare development plans and budgets. A total of 11,261 councilors (including

1,621 commune chiefs) will receive training along with 1,800 commune clerks, who

will provide the link between each council and the MoI.

Four hundred

employees of the district and provincial administrations will also receive

training. Further sessions will be held on finance systems and the planning

process for the higher ranking commune councilors.

The National Council

for the Support of Communes (NCSC), whose members are the key national

ministries, will run the training program and coordinate the decentralization

program.

Another of its tasks will be to manage the relationship between

the councils and the provincial administration. Though Cambodia will for the

first time have a two-tier system of elected government - central and communal -

the government has nominated provincial governors to coordinate with the

communes on local administrative and governance issues.

The MoI's

Department of Local Administration (DOLA) will draft procedures and plans which

it will submit to the NCSC. The responsibilities of the commune councils, the

issues they deal with and where their funding will come from are all key

questions it will address.

Leng Vy, head of DOLA, said that although the

specific duties of the councils were not yet finalized, they would have to

maintain harmony in the commune, cooperate with local police to ensure citizens

were safe, and work to improve the quality of life at the local

level.

"These could include plans for building schools, health centers,

drainage and sewer systems, irrigation canals and roads," said Vy. Registering

births and deaths was another task they would take on. Provincial governors

would ensure each commune's plans would match the development plans of the

Kingdom.

The Ministry of Economy & Finance has set up a $6.4 million

commune fund to fund councils in the current year. Each commune will get on

average $1,350 to meet the first year's administration expenses; STF will give

around $8,400 to 506 communes for specific development projects.

STF's

program manager Scott Leiper said the extra cash was available to those communes

that had drawn up development plans and budgets in advance. By 2003 most

communes will have development committees that will decide on local

projects.

"The communes supported by Seila, by virtue of their having

being part of the [pilot] decentralization project, hold a long experience in

debating local development issues and drafting detailed development plans," said

Leiper.

Initially communes will raise 5 percent of their budget locally,

either by asking for contributions from better-off residents or by organizing

fairs and similar programs. Going forward they are expected to increase the

amount of money raised through local taxation.

"In addition to [central

government] support - expected to be around 2 percent of annual domestic revenue

next year - councils will also carry out agency functions for individual

ministries and receive direct funding for specific projects like building rural

roads, health centers or irrigation canals," said the MoI official.

Local

residents need to know more about the role and responsibilities of their commune

councils. To achieve this several NGOs will run awareness programs across the

country starting in Kampong Cham February 14.

"If the councils are to

play a vital and decisive role in the development process, they must work in

close cooperation with people in the villages. And the villagers, in turn,

should be prepared to share their ideas with their [elected] representatives,"

said Chea Vannath, president of the Center for Social Development.

One

concern is that communes headed by Funcinpec or the opposition SRP might face

discrimination when funds are allocated or projects approved. The best advice,

say experts, is to wait a year and see what happens, as checks and balances have

not been decided on.

STF, which supports some communes through its

partnership program, reckons it will not be a problem, provided there is enough

external support to ensure free and fair local governance during the first term.

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