THOUGH attendance at local governance meetings has increased over the past two years, participation has been largely passive, and many people – especially women and the poor – say they have doubts that decision-makers will take their views into account, according to a report released by a local NGO Tuesday.
Pact Cambodia’s Second Citizen Satisfaction Survey, which follows a 2008 baseline survey, was designed to monitor the progress made with respect to the goverment’s decentralisation effort.
That effort began in 2001 with the passage of laws on commune administration, management and elections, and was implemented with the first commune council elections in 2002.
The survey, conducted between December and February, included 2,341 respondents from 130 communes across eight provinces: Battambang, Kampong Cham, Kampong Thom, Kandal, Prey Veng, Pursat, Svay Rieng and Takeo.
More than half of all respondents surveyed reported that they had attended at least one local governance meeting within the past year, compared with around 25 percent of respondents in the 2008 survey who reported having attended at least one commune council meeting in the previous year.
But of those who reported that they had attended meetings, only 5 percent said they had spoken during a meeting, and only around half of all respondents surveyed said they agreed with the statement that “when a person like me speaks, the leaders listen”.
The report also found that compared to other participants in local governance meetings, “women and the poor are less likely to speak and less likely to believe that their views will be heard”.
Erin Blake, Pact’s monitoring, evaluation, reporting and learning coordinator, cautioned that the increase in citizen participation at the local level may not be as significant as the figures suggest, because the survey had been amended this time around to include not just commune council meetings, but all local governance meetings.
This is where real democracy begins, at the grassroots level.
He said, though, that the survey’s findings were generally positive, and showed that there have been some “small but important” improvements in local governance over the past two years.
“It bodes really well for democracy in Cambodia,” he said. “To me, this is where real democracy begins, at the grassroots level.”
The report also found that overall citizen satisfaction with local governance had improved over the last two years, backing up the results of a similar report that was released by the UN Development Programme on May 31.
More than 80 percent of respondents said that commune councils “use resources well”, up from around 60 percent in 2008. And around 30 percent of respondents said commune councils were “very responsive”, up from around 20 percent.
Leng Vy, general director of local administration and deputy head of the National Council for Sub-national Democratic Development (NCDD) Secretariat, said during a speech at the report’s launch on Tuesday that the survey could be used in formulating policies to improve
“The findings will be important for different stakeholders and institutions of the government in order to carry out reforms,” he said.