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Cambodian commune leaders support decentralization

April 12, 2011

  • Decentralization is a means to improve local governance and accountability
  • The World Bank is supporting decentralization efforts in Cambodia through the government’s Rural Investment and Local Governance Project (RILGP)
  • 11,353 councilors have participated in decentralization processes since 2002

Phnom Penh, CAMBODIA, April 12, 2011 — Commune chief Seang Seng Ky is proud to have “ownership” of a commune development plan at last. Less than ten years ago, he and his fellow commune councilors had to wait for orders from the central government or from provincial and district governors. They then implemented what they were told.

“It’s completely different from what we had ten years ago,” said Mr Seng Ky, Tbong Kropeu commune chief (Stueng Sen District, Kampong Thom province), “Back then, we had no right to make any decisions especially on commune development. We just waited for orders from the top. Now, we can make decisions on our priority needs and have a budget in hand to do it.”

Funding decentralization efforts

The World Bank is supporting decentralization efforts in Cambodia by financing the government’s Rural Investment and Local Governance Project (RILGP) with a $36.25 million grant and a $22 million interest-free loan.

The project helps local governments at the provincial and commune level adopt procedures that will encourage good local governance. It also fosters citizen participation in the local development process.

Challenges and opportunities

Chhon Ras, the chief of Lumtong commune (Oddor Meanchey Province), welcomed moves to decentralize government in Cambodia. He said that it’s important to make decisions at the commune level. Decentralization is a new idea for Chhon Ras and four colleagues- they lived in the last stronghold of the Khmer Rouge, an area which was controlled until 1997.

“As you know, the Khmer Rouge regime’s power was absolute. Commune authorities had no rights at all.

“Our experience with decentralization began in 2002. At first it was a challenge for us. Now, with decentralization, citizens and commune councils and administrations are working together to design and implement the development priorities selected by the commune.

“This process allows us to discuss things directly with villagers and to give them opportunities to voice their needs and concerns,” he said.

Bou Pea, the commune’s first deputy chief, praised the decentralization process.

He said: “The closer the government is to the people the better. I have lived through several regimes and not one in the past gave councils and villagers the rights to make decisions as we have now,”

Som Sokhom, Preah Vihear province’s sole female commune chief, believes that decentralization facilitated local development at the Chamroeun commune. Another advantage, she said, was that the commune could directly seek support from civil society partners.

Ms. Sokhom finds the commune decentralization tasks challenging at times. But she has committed herself to this difficult challenge.

“I want people to prosper. Even though it’s difficult, I have to try hard to help my people here,” she said.

Seang Seng Ky, Chhon Ras, Bou Pea, and Som Sokhom are among the 11,353 councilors who’ve participated in fiscal, administrative, and political decentralization since Cambodia’s first commune election in 2002.