THE two main election watchdog NGOs have criticized the government's political decentralization
policy for being short on ensuring accountability within local government because
of political partisanship.
They say local government needs to be able to exercise more power to become more
Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia
(Comfrel) said on May 28 that the commune election law that provided for a system
of proportional representation that allowed only political parties to nominate candidates
to run for commune councils (to the exclusion of independents), was causing disruption
and deadlock to the objective of decentralization.
"A council composed along partisan lines in a politically confrontational environment
on many occasions creates conflicts among the council members from different political
parties, causing disruption, deadlock in their work and increased animosity among
councillors of different parties," he said in a report to the regional forum
of National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), an NGO funded by
the United States Congress.
Sonket Sereyleak, education program co-ordinator at Comfrel, told the Post that individual
commune chiefs and council members believed most of them work for the interests of
political parties rather than the local people.
"I think decentralization means devolution of power from the central level to
local level, but I have seen that more than two years after the commune elections,
the exercise of power remains at the central level," said Sereyleak.
She said the law allowed only political parties to nominate commune chiefs and their
council members, and no independent candidate participation. This meant there was
no electoral competition to serve the interests of local people because individual
members of the commune council were afraid of their party leaders.
"Under the influence of their political parties the decentralization is not
able to make local government more responsible and accountable for meeting local
needs," said Sereyleak.
Hang Puthea, executive director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and
Fair Elections in Cambodia (Nicfec) said that intimidation occurred within the registration
process and election campaign, and the role of the National Election Committee would
need to improve if Cambodia was to have free and fair elections.
Puthea and Panha told a national forum on strengthening local government, organized
by NDI on May 27-28, that political influence of the three main political parties
was still putting pressure on members of the commune councils to respect their party
Participating in the forum were political parties, civil society leaders, elected
representatives of the commune councils, and government officials. The aim was to
agree on a set of recommendations to bolster local government in Cambodia.
The 1,621 commune councils following local elections in February 3, 2002 are shared
as follows among the political parties:
* CPP won 68.4 percent (7,703) of commune council seats, and appointed 1,598 of the
total 1,621 commune chiefs. CPP also appointed 789 first deputy commune chiefs, 154
second deputies and 5,162 councilors.
* Funcinpec won 19.6 percent (2,211) commune council seats which allowed the party
to appoint ten commune chiefs and 547 first deputy commune chiefs, 852 as second
deputy and 802 councilors.
* Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) won 12 percent (1,346) of the seats, appointed 13 commune
chiefs, 285 first deputy chiefs and 615 second deputy chiefs and 433 councilors.
Comfrel and Nicfec and a majority of the members of the commune councilors said in
the forum that there was a lack of financial resources for development at the commune
level, general level of capacity and skill of the councilors and lack of robust legal
Puthea and Panha called on the NEC to reform the law to ensure that independent candidates
can participate in the next commune elecftions in early 2007.
Tep Nytha, secretary general of NEC, said NEC and the UN Development Program (UNDP)
have cooperated to start examining the commune election law and update the voter
list to improve the electoral environment to meet the needs of major stakeholders.
But he declined to give detail about the work of NEC and said he was waiting for
a new National Assembly to be formed.
On the lack of financial resources, NDI wrote that participants found only 2 percent
of the national budget was allocated to the commune councils, while in other democratic
countries allocation to local government units was much higher, ranging from 25 to
The participants said they required at least 25 percent of future national budgets
to be set aside for the councils.
Vang Sokha, deputy director department of local finance at the Ministry of Economy
and Finance, and Sak Setha, director general of the administration department of
the Ministry of Interior, said the government was scheduled to establish rules and
regulations to give effect to the provision in the commune administration law allowing
the councils to raise taxes locally, but the ongoing political deadlock had interrupted
Sokha said the contribution of the national budget to commune councils was increased
from 1.2 percent in 2002 to 2.5 percent in 2004. The target of the government was
to put 25 percent of the national budget into local government between 2005-2007,
but he predicted that this would not be achieved. He said the only local revenue
income currently was fees for obtaining birth and marriage certificates.
Some participants at the forum criticized the prevalence of corruption and lack of
transparency at commune level and said higher than stipulated fees were being charged
for obtaining such certificates.
The Rural Investment and Local Governance Project (RILGP) is part of a broader program
supporting decentralization and improved governance, totalling $69.16 million. Of
this, $2 million comes from the International Development Association, one of the
World Bank Group agencies, and the rest co-financed from UNDP, DFID and SIDA; $19
million is helping meet the Government's commitments to the communes and sangkats
2003 to 2006. It supports provision of priority goods and services and promotes good
local governance systems at the commune and provincial level.
Louise Scura, team leader RILGP said in the World Bank's May newsletter that decentralization
is the means to achieve the objective of improved local governance, but decentralization
doesn't necessarily guarantee this.
"It is important in Cambodia to develop the capacity, ability and incentives
at local level to respond to local needs, essentially working to improving local
government to be more responsive, more transparent, and more available to the local
community, making sure the public funds are available and put to best use and ensuring
accountability within the local government structure for the use of funds,"
Scura said that commune/sangkat fund covered the cost of commune councilor salaries
and administrative costs, as well as priority development projects at the commune
level. The allocation per commune/sangkat on average was about $6,000 to $8,000 depending
on population and rated poverty level.
Communes have identified as their priorities basic rural infrastructure such as roads,
culverts, wells, water supply, sanitation, small-scale irrigation, schools and clinics.
"What they probably don't understand well enough is how essential their role
is in demanding better service delivery by participating in the process and ensuring
their voices are heard, as well as in holding their local government more accountable,"