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NGOs see danger signs on reforms

NGOs see danger signs on reforms

A recent NGO review of the Governance Action Plan (GAP) has identified numerous aspects

it feels could prevent the success of the reform strategy. The GAP, which came into

being in April 2001, is a road map for reforms which are widely recognized as necessary

if Cambodia is to progress.

The review was carried out by NGO Forum, an umbrella group of NGOs operating in Cambodia.

Russell Peterson, NGO Forum's representative, said the review gave NGOs the opportunity

to voice their comments and suggestions on the reform plan.

"The GAP is a government document put together with the help of the foreign

donors, and NGOs are naturally concerned about the areas raised in the plan,"

said Peterson. "The objective was to provide an opportunity for NGOs to give

constructive comments on how NGOs, donors and the government could further contribute

to the success of the GAP."

The report addressed each of the eight areas covered in the GAP: legal and judicial

reform; public administration reform; decentralization and local governance; public

finance reform; anti-corruption; gender equality; armed forces reform; and natural

resource management.

Among the targets for criticism were low civil servant salaries, no movement of anti-corruption

legislation, and the lack of progress on judicial reform.

"Ridiculously low civil service salaries continue to be the biggest impediment

to the improvement of government delivery," said Peterson. "Increases in

civil service salaries need to be accompanied by strict enforcement of anti-corruption

measures, to eliminate the widespread use of public positions for personal gain."

Another crux of the report were the findings related to the progress of anti-corruption

legislation.

"There has been very little progress on most of the [anti corruption] commitments,"

the report stated. "There seems to be little political will to finalize the

anti-corruption legislation."

Peterson said that the reform would need the full backing of the Cambodian people

to ensure its success.

"Not surprisingly, the areas of least progress are those that most threaten

vested interests," he added. "If political will is solely the result of

donor pressure, the reforms are likely to be superficial and lack ownership."

The recommendations were presented to the Council of Ministers on June 17, but NGO

Forum is still waiting to hear back.

"So far we have received little response," said Peterson. "We did

initially hand it to Sum Manit and he said be would take an interest and look at

our comments. We are hoping they will incorporate some of the NGOs' ideas."

Kong Sophy, director of the government project at the Council for Administrative

Reform (CAR), confirmed he had received the report and said he had passed it on to

the relevant bodies.

"I am currently discussing the anti-corruption recommendations with the Anti-Corruption

Unit," he said. "The legal and judicial reform recommendations have been

passed on to His Excellency Som Sophara, but I have received no reply as yet."

Sophy said the CAR was consulting with the World Bank about similar issues, and that

the recommendations given by NGOs were being reviewed.

"When we have discussed the matter and have approval from the Council of Ministers,

we will meet with NGOs to discuss the recommendations," he said.

The second GAP will be produced after these consultations.

"I hope we will conduct the meeting with the NGOs, donors and civil service

by the end of this month," said Sophy.

"GAP-II should be approved by the Council of Ministers by the end of December

or the beginning of 2003."

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