NGOs and government officials said Cambodians, especially poor people in rural areas, are now more informed about their right to receive public services, and that public service agents are friendlier and performing better than previously.

World Vision Cambodia, in partnership with the Wathnakpheap Organisation, on Tuesday signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with 11 partner NGOs to implement the Social Accountability for Improved Service Delivery project in five provinces with a budget almost $3 million.

A joint press release said the project is co-funded by the EU and World Vision Germany.

The organisations expect the initiative to benefit some 2.8 million people by improving local services in 292 communes, 571 primary schools and 216 health centres in five provinces – Battambang, Kampong Cham, Kampong Speu, Pursat and Takeo – after having already implemented the Social Accountability Framework since 2015.

The Cambodia Demographic and Health Survey 2014, which was conducted by World Vision, said poor people in rural areas still lacked access to public services, such as health services and education.

But World Vision Cambodia operations director Leng Vireak said on Tuesday that public services had improved because of the change in the attitude of public service agents and the fact that more people were informed about such services.

“In our regular visits and through our agents, we have seen some improvement. But we want to see real improvement of public services, not hope for improvement."

“Because people understand that health centres, public schools and commune and district halls provide services, they will come [to receive those services]. So people are better informed about the services and can demand them.

“Before, maybe they didn’t know about their rights. They begged for the service provider to help them on this or that issue and sometimes they received help and sometimes they didn’t,” he said.

Vireak said the Social Accountability for Improved Service Delivery project would help people understand what they could receive in exchange for the votes they cast during elections.

Ministry of Interior secretary of state Ngy Chanphal said this is another milestone for the Kingdom and World Vision had been a valuable partner in implementing the Social Accountability Framework.

Chanphal said that together with local and international NGOs and other development partners, Cambodia would be able to improve local services to millions of children and families.

“According to our past experience, we will continue to strengthen the mechanisms, improve human resources at the local level and issue guidance that we were not previously able to provide,” he said.

EU representative Francesca Ciccomartino said joint participation was crucial to the project and will pave the way for a better and faster provision of public services with accountability and transparency.

“The object of the MoU is to assist all partner NGOs to work together to improve the local service delivery provided by the government [the supply side] and to every Cambodian [the demand side] in provinces throughout the country,” she said.