Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Defining democracy



Defining democracy

Defining democracy

Dear Editor,

I read with interest your recent interview with World Bank representative Qimiao Fan ("A Personal Grasp of Poverty", April 3) in which he said the most encouraging thing for him to see in Cambodia has been the improvement in local governance - specifically, that "all parties are sitting there ... working together as the local elected body to make decisions as to whether to build an access road or an irrigation canal or a school building". This is not an inaccurate description of how commune councils make such decisions, but it is misleading to suggest, as Qimiao Fan does, that this is an example of "democracy at the grassroots level".

According to information provided by the World Bank, commune councils spend their funds almost exclusively on three items: rural roads, irrigation and school buildings. This is due in good part not to "democracy at the grassroots level" but to the World Bank-supported Rural Investment and Local Governance Project, under which these items but not others are eligible for reimbursement.

It is true that these decisions are made by local councils with reasonable measures of participation by citizens and non-CPP parties (where there are any), and this is indeed encouraging. But this, too, is not due to democracy blossoming at the grassroots level. Rather, it is because the process for these decisions is meticulously choreographed by donors, especially the World Bank.

The idea of local governance is to give local councils some measure of autonomy in relevant decision-making to enable them to respond to the needs of their constituents. Centrally prescribing overly rigid procedures is the opposite of local autonomy. Local councils lack decision-making power in many matters that often are of the most urgent concern to their constituents, including the management of land and natural resources.

Describing the current situation as "democracy at the grassroots level" mischaracterises the nature of governance in Cambodia, although the description is characteristic of the impoverished vision of "local governance" supported by the World Bank. The problem is not that the World Bank supports local infrastructure projects but that it reduces "local governance" to "decisions as to whether to build an access road or an irrigation canal or a school building", suggesting that this type of decision-making is the essence of "democracy at the grassroots level".  

Stefan Ehrentraut

Phnom Penh

MOST VIEWED

  • Phnom Penh unveils rules for post-lockdown transition

    The Phnom Penh Municipal Administration issued a set of detailed guidelines for the seven days to May 12 after the capital emerges from lockdown at the onset of May 6. In the 14-page document signed by municipal governor Khuong Sreng released on the evening of May 5, the

  • SBI LY HOUR Bank Launches Cross Border Money Transfer Service between Cambodia and Vietnam on RippleNet, utilizing DLT

    SBI LY HOUR Bank Plc and Hanoi-based Tien Phong Commercial Joint Stock Bank (TPBank) on Friday launched the first Cambodia-Vietnam money transfer service in real currency via RippleNet, provided by SBI Ripple Asia Co Ltd to provide safe, fast and convenient services. SBI LY HOUR

  • Cambodia ready to exit LDC status

    Cambodia is well-prepared to minimise economic risks when it graduates from its Least Developed Countries status, according to a senior official at the Ministry of Commerce on May 7. Four LDCs – Cambodia, Laos, Bangladesh and Nepal – met at a virtual workshop last week to explore potential

  • Nine US franchises eye Cambodia debut

    Nine famous US franchising companies are looking for business opportunities and expansion into Cambodia to build a footstep for a strong foundation in Southeast Asia. The US embassy in Phnom Penh, in partnership with the US Foreign Commercial Service and with support from the American

  • Nearly 2,000 detained for Phnom Penh curfew breach

    Nearly 2,000 people were detained in the capital for violating the curfew imposed by the government and Phnom Penh Municipal Administration. Municipal police spokesman San Sokseyha told The Post on May 16 that people were detained in two phases. In phase one, the government locked down Phnom

  • Jab drive announced for two more Phnom Penh districts

    The Phnom Penh Municipal Administration on May 15 announced a first-dose novel-coronavirus vaccination campaign for Boeung Keng Kang and Sen Sok districts from May 18-31, and a follow-up second-shot drive from June 1-15. Twenty vaccination sites have been set up in a combined 13 communes across both