The One Window Service Offices (OWSO) and Citizen’s Offices (CO) projects will soon be expanded to include communes across the country by the Ministry of Interior in order to improve the efficiency of providing high quality corruption-free administrative services to people with simple procedures, transparency and accountability.

In the early implementation phase of the OWSO and CO projects from June 2009 to March 2014, the town and district support groups and inter-ministerial technical consultative groups played an active role in supporting and coordinating the policies, technical details, monitoring and evaluation.

In general, both offices have received high marks from the Kingdom’s citizenry and civil society organisations and the project has received financial support from the European Union and the World Bank in past years as well as from the government’s own budget.

The interior ministry state that by the end of this year Cambodia will have over 200 OWSOs across the Kingdom to provide localized public services and the government is expanding the presence of OWSO’s to the commune level.

Currently, the offices are overseen by the Department of Functions and Resources of the General Department of Local Administration (GDLA) of the interior ministry.

This department’s primary role is policy formulation and coordination and technical support in collaboration with relevant ministries and institutions for capacity building and monitoring of the implementation of the OWSOs and COs.

Buon Heng, director of the Function and Resources Department of the GDL, told The Post that for the commune OWSO planning, his department had disseminated information on it to the capital-provincial administrations already prior to the June 5 commune council election this year.

The ministry also communicated with other units by invitation such as the Anti-Corruption Unit, which had the ministry’s representatives give a presentation about the commune OWSO mechanism to their officials.

“We also disseminated the plans to the heads of the OWSO at the capital-provincial level so that they can be a focal point to help the provincial administration in explaining this mechanism to the commune councils in their respective provinces,” he said.

Heng said that the ministry had instructed the provincial administrations to assign a working group to educate the new commune councils about the OWSO plans after they officially take office.

“We instructed capital and each province to set a specific time when the communes in those provinces start operating the OWSO. They should begin on the same date,” Heng said.

He said the ministry was monitoring which provinces had already done the necessary outreach efforts and reported to the ministry this August about the implementation of the mechanism.

“We do not want to procrastinate as we are concerned that people who haven’t received the ministry’s information won’t grasp the whole concept and principles,” he said.

Heng said that the government began to introduce the new OWSO mechanism in all communes across the country after the new commune councils in the capital and provinces took office.

He added that the government has fully authorised the interior ministry to go ahead with establishing the OWSOs at the commune level but the ministry has been busy with a great deal of other work in the months since the commune council election and the implementation has been delayed.

“The goal was that we wanted the new 5th mandate commune councils to organize them. If we organized it in the last mandate that would have been difficult because it was in the middle of the mandate, which had a short period. So, if we started implementation with the new mandate then we can find the shortcomings that need improving,” he said.

According to Heng, the OWSO at the commune level focuses on providing two main direct services. One of them is registration work, which has 10 sub-services and the other is the verification of letters or applications which has 13 sub-services. The interior ministry and economy ministry have already prepared an inter-ministerial declaration on the provisions of these services.

Separately, there are also other services that the communes will continue to carry out, such as identification cards and residence book.

“Now the General Department of Identification is doing a pilot programme in some communes with this work. We have recently announced that we will try to reach 14 communes in Phnom Penh. We take one commune in each of the 14 districts as the target commune for doing a pilot project for this work,” he said.

Preah Sihanouk provincial governor Kuoch Chamroeun announced that the provincial administration would launch 29 new OWSO throughout the province to serve the people from August 1 onwards.

In addition, the provincial administration also launched the outstanding commune competition movement in providing public services in the province to promote the effective implementation of this mechanism.

“We must work together to expand administrative services at the OWSO to be effective and transparent with posted price lists for the convenience of the people and to reduce their concerns. We also need to have competition among the 29 provinces too,” he said.

Sun Sophat, representative for the Cambodia Coalition of Farmer Community (CCFC), said the provision of public services through the OWSO such as birth certificates and civil registry documents had functioned well in some districts and for some services, but problems related to obtaining land documents persisted.

“Many of our people have seldom understood about administrative procedures and preparations for official documents,” he said. “Sometimes, they go looking for a service at a commune or a district office and there is still a lack of instructions about which documents they need or how these administrative documents must be filled out.

Am Sam Ath, deputy director of rights group LICADHO, said: “The provision of decentralized public services in communes is important but there must be a system of accountability and transparency and the services should be done quickly.”

He added that the important aspect was preparing the procedures, policies, mechanisms and human resources and budget to implement it better.

He said the OWSO should ensure that there are no delays or obstacles in providing services and that everything is done in compliance with the laws, procedures and policies, especially with documents that are free of charge and documents where the state sets the price. The fee charges should be posted on the wall of these offices to avoid overcharges or corruption.

According to the interior ministry, the payment of administrative fees can be made by direct payment at the counter or by transfer with an agency approved by the ministry or relevant institutions and that all services provided by the OWSO are the same cost at every location.