Minister of Interior Sar Kheng has requested that the UN in Cambodia continue its support for decentralisation and deconcentralisation reforms in the Kingdom, claiming that Cambodians have “come to learn more about and support” the processes in the last decade.

Sar Kheng made the request to outgoing UN Resident Coordinator Pauline Tamesis at a meeting on April 5.

During the meeting, Tamesis told him that the UN in Cambodia will continue to be committed to working with the Cambodian government in all areas, “in line with government strategy.”

She also asked the minister if there were any priority tasks within his portfolio that she could assist in promoting. Sar Kheng said he highlighted those which supported women and children.

He said the government had recently laid out decentralisation and deconcentration reform plans for the next 10 years. The plans’ key activities focused on the continued delegation of human and financial resources to the sub-national level as well as increasing public participation in policymaking.

The interior minister also said he requested that the UN continue reviewing and looking into the possibility of providing support for any part or activity of the second phase of the 10-year plan.

“Although this decentralisation and deconcentralisation process is a new task for Cambodia, in the past 10 years, [I have] seen the progress of this task… people have learnt more about it and showed more support for it,” he said in a Facebook post after the meeting.

Yang Kim Eng, president of the People’s Centre for Development and Peace, told The Post on April 6 that decentralisation and deconcentralisation reforms were the key to achieving transparency and accessibility of public services whilst also improving their quality.

He said each nation’s government required strong checks and balances at the grassroots level and a “real” multi-party system in order to achieve genuine devolution of power.

“The decentralisation and deconcentralisation [of power in Cambodia] could not be made possible without checks and balances, or the balance of control at the grassroots level… In successful countries, it is only when there is a real multi-party system at the grassroots level that political parties can be brought together in agreement,” he said.

Kim Eng added that decentralisation and deconcentralisation reforms were not a new concept in Cambodia, having first been introduced in 2002, and said that the two decades since was an “adequate” amount of time for Cambodia to be able to share its experiences and progress on the process with other countries.

He said such reforms were hindered by three factors: lower-level officials’ political cronyism, the refusal of authorities to loosen their grip on power and the lack of suitable and qualified candidates for senior official roles.

Of the lack of candidates, he said: “We are yet to encourage human resources [in government] to enable younger people to stand as representatives at communes. We are yet to have learned people [in these offices].

“It seems that roles such as commune chiefs or commune councillors are trivial, small to them [the government]. It’s like they do not give much importance to such roles, but similarly, we do not have the budget to fund” and incentivise qualified people to take on such positions, he said.