Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
It is my honor and pleasure to be here in the closing of the stocktaking conference of the achievements of the second-term commune councils and work progress of the capital, provincial, municipal and district/khan councils over the past two years.
Taking this opportunity, I would like to highly praise H.E. Sar Kheng, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Interior and Excellencies members of the National Committee for Sub-National Democratic Development (NCDD) for years of tireless effort in leading and coordinating all necessary tasks to design and implement this important reform program.
Along with this, I would also like to express my appreciation to concerned ministries/institutions, capital, provincial, municipal and district/khan councils, commune/sangkat councils, all levels of public servant, as well as development partners, civil organizations, and the people for their support of decentralization and de-concentration reform programs for nearly ten years. In particular, I would like to highly commend all 1,621 commune councils for the achievements and important role in realizing this historic reform program.
After realizing territorial integrity and complete peace that are made possible by the win-win policy and to undertake the Royal Government’s policy programs and triangular strategy during the second legislature of the National Assembly, a fair, just and multiparty commune/sangkat-level election was held in February of 2002.
Since then, commune councils have fulfilled their duties according to the national policy with contribution from their respective communities in order to directly respond to the needs of their community members. Based on the concrete foundation of experiences and achievement during the first-term commune councils, the Law on Administration of the Capital, Provinces, Municipalities, Districts/Khan was adopted in May 2008. Later on, we successfully held a fair and just election of capital council, provincial councils, municipal councils, district councils, and khan councils in mid-2009.
According to the stocktaking report, I strongly support and highly value the achievements in decentralization and de-concentration reform programs that are complex and require cautious step-by-step implementation to avoid disrupting the ongoing socio-economic development progress while the a new local administrative structure and system was gradually introduced in Cambodia. On this occasion, I would like to further highlight some important achievements, challenges and solutions as follows:
Over the course of the democratic development through decentralization and de-concentration programs since 2002, six achievements stood out as being of the most significance, including:
Achievement No. 1: the democratic development through decentralization and de-concentration reform programs has further strengthened political stability through democratic sub-national administrative election.
The outcome of the previous democratic and multiparty sub-national administrative elections has created a good opportunity to mobilize local political factions to create local administrative structure including commune councils, sangkat councils, capital councils, provincial councils, municipal councils, district councils and khan councils that are elected and mandated to seek consultation on, coordinate and accelerate development in their respective localities by allowing contribution from people of all factions, all groups of the civil society and the private sector to jointly address local challenges, respond to the needs of local people and contribute to poverty reduction in each locality. This newly established system has prevented discrimination against and overlooking of any local group, in particular ethnic minority and vulnerable groups. The sub-national administration councils and relevant stakeholders have together worked hard to create the culture of participatory transparency and responsibility, which is a key of good governance and the core of the “Rectangular Strategy” of the Royal Government of Cambodia.
Hence, I would consider achievement No.1 as a key achievement for the continuous and long-lasting progress of democracy, strengthening of political stability and the development in Cambodia.
Achievement No.2: the preparation of legal framework along with the introduction of the most appropriate structural system for Cambodia.
The achievement in this area is a preparation of legal framework for the establishment of the structural system and necessary procedures for the sub-national administration councils to operate and manage their own localities. The Royal Government has thoroughly studied the experiences of other countries that have been implementing reforms by identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the implementation of those reform programs in order to create the most appropriate regulation and system for Cambodia. Other countries’ experiences show that the democratic development reform is a tedious and long-lasting task, which takes time and requires firm and steady commitment from relevant stakeholders along with the willingness to adjust various strategies based on the experiences and learnt lessons from real practices.
The establishment of legal framework, structure and system are possible due to the establishment of appropriate supporting institutions with inter-ministerial consultations and consensus. In the initial stage of the reform, National Committee for the Support of Communes has played an important role in this issue, and at present it has been replaced by the National Committee for Sub-National Democratic Development (NCDD). No single ministry is able to take the whole responsibility for this reform, but it requires involvement from all branches of the government. Therefore, NCDD acts as a flexible coordinator of involvement from concerned ministries/institutions of the government, authorities at capital, provincial, municipal, district and commune levels, national and international organizations, development partners, non-governmental and civil organizations.
Achievement No.3: the preparation of financial management system and the management of participatory development. This achievement has been reflected through three aspects, including:
- The establishment of commune/sangkat funds with the arrangement for transferring budget from national level to commune level with more predictability, in a sense that communes can estimate beforehand the resources for the local development in the medium term. This budget is allocated annually based on a transparent and equitable formula, and transferred to communes according to specific schedules that allow communes to prepare their respective annual budgets for the effective implementation of their development plans. We have also created principles and procedures of financial management and procurement, and implemented of commune/sangkat fund project which ensure participatory transparency and integrity in the management of the fund.
- Through commune funds, the Royal Government has transferred nearly 888 billion Riels (equivalent to USD 222 million) to communes nationwide between 2002 and 2011, in which Riel 834 billion Riels (equivalent to USD 208 million) are from the government budget and 54 billion Riels (equivalent to USD 14 million) are from development partners. Furthermore, over the past 10 years the Royal Government has mobilized additional fund of about USD 56 million and distributed the fund to some targeted communes on top of the commune funds.
- To ensure the distribution of the resources timely respond to the priority needs of the local we have set up a 5-year development planning system for communes, 3-year rolling investment plans for each commune/sangkat and the preparation of commune annual budget with the involvement of local people.
Achievement No.4: contribution in local development and poverty reduction.
In almost 10 years, commune councils have made a great achievement in terms of local development. In order to respond to the priority needs for the renovation of local physical infrastructure and the improvement of accessibility to markets and public services for local people as well as for local communities, commune councils have prepared and implemented many small projects including many small-scale rural infrastructure and social service delivery projects that have made a noticeable impact. Apart from these, commune councils have also involved with the development of social services through supporting the committee in charge of commune woman and child affairs in the implementation of small and necessary social service delivery at local level. In parallel, commune councils have also acted as registrars of births, marriages and deaths. Until now, commune councils have issued 10 million birth certificates, a big contribution to child’s rights and protection.
Achievement No.5: the promotion of gender equity in local governance.
The process of decentralization and de-concentration reform has contributed to the promotion of gender equity in local governance, and that has further strengthened social and political capital for bolstering democracy and national development. Female commune council members accounted for 8% of the total in the first mandate and the ratio rose to 16% in the second mandate. We hope that ratio will keep increasing in coming mandates. Furthermore, women also serve as village chiefs, village deputy chiefs or village members, and in the governing committee of each capital, provincial, municipal, district/khan council, there is at least one woman serving as the governor or deputy governor. More importantly, the committee in charge of commune woman and child affairs have been established under each sub-national administrative councils to give greater attention to gender issues and respond to the needs of women and children.
Achievement No.6: the establishment of the National League of Commune/Sangkat Councils.
The establishment of the National League of Commune/Sangkat Councils is an important medium of collective voice of sub-national administrative councils in their dialogue with the government on development-related issues. Moreover, this national league has been playing an important role in building capacity of council members to fulfill their duties according to the law and regulation.
As illustrated by above-mentioned achievement, we could conclude that we are currently at primary stage of decentralization and deconcentration reform by having built the foundation for democratic development through laying out related policies, strategies and laws. At present, we are preparing and gradually adopting systems and structures which are firm the foundation of the new local governance system. During the course of implementing the Organic Law and decentralization and de-concentration reform, we face numerous challenges but we also have many opportunities to strengthen democracy and accountability of sub-national administrative councils to provide quality public services in response to priority needs of the people.
At present, we are implementing the ten-year national program for sub-national democratic development, more specifically, the three-year implementation plan of the national program which is called “IP3”. As I have mentioned earlier, we have an able inter-ministerial committee called NCDD which is mandated to enforce the Organic Law and report progress to the Royal Government. We are also strengthening the secretariat to enhance support for NCDD and the four sub-committees, including the sub-committee on planning, sub-committee on human resources, sub-committee on finance, and sub-committee on function. Along with this, we have also delegated the implementation responsibility of the six programs of NCDD’s IP3 to NCDD’s secretariat, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Finance and Economy, Ministry of Planning, Secretariat of State of Public Functions and the National League of Commune/Sangkat Councils.
I would also like to highlight other important tasks related to sub-national administrative councils. Adding to the firm establishment of commune/sangkat councils, we have elected capital councils, provincial councils, municipal councils, district councils and khan councils. We are currently preparing basic management standard for these councils with the supply of personnel and financial resources. The next important policy action to be undertaken shortly is the transfer of functions. This step requires involvement from concerned ministries/institutions to review existing responsibilities and determine which responsibilities should be transferred to sub-national administrative councils. Within the framework of the Organic Law, NCDD is mandated to oversee the transfer of responsibilities to sub-national administrative authorities and ensure that the whole process is transparent, efficient and within clear timeframe and has no or minimal impact on the ongoing operation of the Royal Government. Compiling and reviewing the list of functions also require institutional reorganization which is also related the public financial management reform program. Therefore, NCDD and the public financial management reform program must work together to ensure all processes are interconnected and coordinated.
We already learn that responsibility transfer is a difficult and complicated process because this task is related to the changes of the government’s working system. Moreover, this task is not only related to the responsibility transfer but it is also related to the transfer of human, financial and other resources needed for the proper functioning of transferred responsibilities. Regardless of the form of transfer, we must have a concrete plan to determine the needed areas of capacity building for the assuming councils and administrations for the sake of better, faster and more effective public services. Concerned ministries, institutions, and councils need to work closely with each other to ensure the success of this process. We can do it step by step, and in some cases pivotal programs will be used.
In this present time, we have Law on the Management of Finance and State Assets for Sub-National Administration which requires the functioning of municipal and district funds as well as related regulation needed for the functioning of the funds. Therefore, once again I would like to encourage NCDD and Ministry of Economy and Finance to work harder in order to launch the municipal and district funds to realize additional progress in the field of structural system policy, capacity development and further local development. At the same time, we are preparing mechanisms for transferring investment funds to the sub-national administration councils so that they can use the funds to organize and implement their infrastructure projects. Further financial arrangement is essential when function transfer-related financial resources are transferred to the sub-national administrative councils.
Sub-national administration councils do not only receive instructions, but they have to constantly review their functions and determine how to best respond to the priority needs of local people. Moreover, each council has to make contact with NCDD, MOEF, and relevant institutions to ensure that every capacity development program is not just based on the instructions from upper levels but also on the actual needs too. In order to carry out this request effectively, the councils must fully show its representativeness in the local governance process.
So far, sub-national administrative councils consist of three levels: capital and provincial level, municipal and district/khan level, and commune/sangkat level. However, these three levels have only one representative body that is the national league of the commune/sangkat councils. In the near future, all three-level councils have to decide whether they want a joint representative body or separate representative bodies. Each option has its advantages and disadvantages. Therefore, each council level has to balance the advantages and disadvantages of each alternative and choose the best option. I hope that the sub-national administration councils will select a good option to ensure the strength, effectiveness, and sustainability of this organization.
As stated above, we are very proud of our reforms that encourage more female participants in each council. However, the ratio of women to men is still low in decision-making process of the councils. In this regard, we will provide more chances for women via IP3 to boost gender equity by determining and enhancing gender in all inter-sector issues. Our main purposes are to improve the knowledge of all issues, provide more chances to women to participate in decision-making process of the Councils, and build women’s capacities so that they are able to hold main positions in the decision-making process.
We need full support from all ministries and government institutions for the progress of decentralization and de-concentration reforms. At the same time, we also require all ministries and institutions to be responsible for organizing and transferring duties and resources, as well as building related capacities for the sub-national administration. Also, we need to ensure that the sub-national administration council has clear understandings of its appropriate mandates which are a crucial foundation for the development of all management systems and appropriate capacities to organizing duty transferring. Moreover, we need to ensure that all related stakeholders have close cooperation in implementing the decentralization and de-concentration reforms.
I would like to thank development partners for financial and technical support provided to the Royal Government of Cambodia for decentralization and de-concentration reform programs. At the same time, I also would like to appeal to all partners to continue to support the national program and IP3 via program-based methods which were approved by the government and development partners early last year.
In this opportunity, once again I would like to express my great appreciation to commune/sangkat councils, capital council, municipal and provincial councils, and district/khan councils, and all levels of governing board for their physical and mental effort in realizing past achievements as well as gaining trust from the public.
May I now declare the closing of this conference and wish Excellencies, ladies, and gentlemen distinguished national and international guests, the four gems of Buddhist blessing: Longevity, Nobility, Healthiness and Strength.