The Cambodian government has formally launched a national programme aimed at enhancing the quality and the effectiveness of services provided to the people to ensure that they benefit from inclusive and equitable economic development.

Minister of Interior Sar Kheng – also chairman of the National Committee for Sub-National Democratic Development (NCDD) – said at the official launch ceremony on March 21 that the decision to make step-by-step reforms would ensure the effectiveness of public institutions and sustainability of public services provision.

He said it would also give civil servants an opportunity to learn lessons and draw on their experiences of practical implementation as they further refine their methods with each step taken.

He noted that the sub-national administrative management systems across the country have been engaged in decentralisation. The commune administrations have gained more functions and authority under this policy, as have the town and district administrations.

He said the capital and provincial administrations were more decentralised in terms of resources and authority and the system will have to engage in further reforms by promoting greater decentralisation of functions, resources and authority to sub-national administrations so that elected sub-national administrative councils are responsible and accountable to the people who vote within their jurisdiction.

“Up to now, we have finished the implementation of the Sub-National Democratic Development Phase I (2010-2020) and accomplished many major achievements as expected,” he said.

He emphasised that the two major achievements so far in the decentralisation reforms policy implementation were, firstly, the government holding direct and indirect elections – in accord with the principles of a multi-party liberal democracy – to establish sub-national administrative councils on a regularly scheduled basis and according to the mandate set out in the law on council elections.

Secondly, he said, the government had achieved better efficiency and quality of public service provision and local economic development through the gradual transfer of functions and resources in priority areas to sub-national administrations.

Sar Kheng said the 20 ministries and other state institutions in various priority sectors have thus far participated in the process of transferring functions and resources to the sub-national administrations at each stage without complaint.

He noted by way of example that three functions in the education sector – management of primary education, early childhood education and informal education – have now been transferred to 14 town and district administrations in Battambang province.

“Based on the astounding progress achieved to date, it is now obvious that having a clear vision and a strong will on the part of the government to implement decentralisation reforms has led to the best policy decision made [by the government] in the last two decades. We have improved public service provision, local economic development and effective participation in poverty reduction,” Sar Kheng stated.

At the event, Prime Minister Hun Sen urged relevant ministries and institutions to review and revise relevant laws and legal standards to bring them in line with the policies for development under the decentralisation reform programme.

“We have to continue to improve the efficiency and sustainability of managing reform work and continue to clearly define roles, authority and responsibilities for the provision of public services that were transferred from ministries and national institutions to the sub-national administrations,” he said.

Hun Sen requested that permanent mechanisms be established to ensure the effectiveness of government leadership, coordination and monitoring of the sub-national administrations to make certain they continue to adhere to the Kingdom’s laws and legal standards.

“The division of functions and the transfer of more roles to the grassroots level over the past two years has been a successful endeavour and it assisted in the fight against Covid-19. If every decision required input from the national level before the grassroots level had the authority required to take action, we could not have handled Covid-19 as successfully as we have today,” he said.