The Japanese government and the UN Development Programme (UNDP), in conjunction with Cambodia’s Ministry of Interior and the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC) – a coalition representing local NGOs – have inaugurated a new cooperative development project.
According to a joint press release on December 3, the project – “Building Capacities for Civic Engagement, Peacebuilding and Inclusive Dialogue: Towards Inclusive and Participatory Governance”– was initiated in March and will run for four years. It aims to foster an enabling environment for inclusive dialogue and partnership between the Cambodian government and civil society organisations (CSOs).
The project is co-funded by Japan and the UNDP with a budget of $2.16 million.
“The project’s implementation is supported by the interior ministry and CSO representatives who are committed to enhancing civic engagement and dialogue in Cambodia by making it more inclusive and open to diverse voices,” the press release said.
“To build back better requires a new social contract that takes advantage of the diverse views and ideas of women, men, youth, minority groups and especially those who are left behind,” it said.
The project will facilitate “milestone dialogues” in forums in Phnom Penh and the provinces of Kampong Cham, Siem Reap, Ratanakkiri and Kampot in 2021 so as to establish concrete action, implementation and monitoring plans based on the identified needs, it said.
Interior ministry secretary of state Bun Honn said: “Partnership is one of the requirements to contribute to the development of Cambodia for sustainable growth. The Cambodian government always works in partnership with various stakeholders to achieve strategic plans and development goals.”
Japanese ambassador Masahiro Mikami reaffirmed that his government would continue to support democratic development in Cambodia.
“This clearly demonstrates Japan’s determination to deepen cooperation with various partners in this field. We always hope that all Cambodian people are united for the development of the nation through democratic processes and believe that it is essential for further advancing Cambodia’s efforts,” he said.
UNDP resident representative Nick Beresford said: “As the country builds back better from Covid-19, inclusive civic engagement that takes advantage of Cambodia’s diverse civil society is more critical than ever ... UNDP supports the commitment of government and CSOs to having inclusive and meaningful dialogues, paying particular attention to populations whose voices are not currently heard.”
CHRAC senior adviser Sotha Ros said on December 6 that without a proper mechanism to ensure that their views were registered and considered by the government, the voices of CSOs have been too weak to wield much influence. But this project will come to fill that gap, he said.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said it seemed that similar good governance projects in the past were not very successful. He was sceptical whether this particular project would fare any better.
“The same aims and more would be better attained if donors were to fund institution-building projects to establish an apolitical, efficient and honest civil service, functional institutions of parliamentary democracy and for the rule of law, including an apolitical and independent judiciary,” he said.