Your Excellencies, Ambassadors, Representatives of ASEAN Countries, Leaders of the Municipalities and Provinces, Distinguished international and national guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very pleased to join you today to complete this important forum by sharing some of the experiences of Cambodia on “Local Governance and Decentralization”. In behalf of the Royal Government of Cambodia please accept my warmest wishes to all of you who are here today at this ASEAN Local Administration Forum 2002.
Let me first express my appreciation to the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR) of Japan for selecting the Kingdom of Cambodia as the venue for this 2002 ASEAN Local Administration Forum, in cooperation with the Cambodian Ministry of the Interior. I also thank the representatives of the ASEAN countries who have come here and collaborated to ensure that the forum is fruitful and successful.
As you are aware, this Local Administration Forum is being held very soon after Cambodia achieved tremendous success in hosting and leading the 1st Summit of the Greater Mekong Sub-region Program, the 8th ASEAN Summit, and the related ASEAN Summits with China, Japan, South Korea, India and South Africa. The international community and the Cambodian people have highly appreciated the major gains achieved in these summits.
A major success of the 8th ASEAN Summit is the signing of five framework agreements. The ASEAN and China signed the Framework Agreement on ASEAN-China Economic Cooperation aimed at creating an ASEAN-China Free Trade Area in the coming decade. ASEAN and China also signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, aimed at reducing tensions in the region. ASEAN and Japan signed an Agreement on Broad Economic Partnership emphasizing human resource development and joint work toward an ASEAN-Japan Free Trade Area also within a decade. ASEAN and India agreed to work toward closer trading and investment relations. Finally, the Republic of South Africa also discussed cooperation with the ASEAN.
The Royal Government and Kingdom of Cambodia is very proud to have successfully and peacefully hosted the Summits. It shares thus pride with all 500 million people of the ASEAN. The success of the Summits has reduced the worry and fear arising from recent terrorist attacks, and places the region back in the path to economic take-off after the Asian economic crisis.
All the agreements achieved in the ASEAN Summits in Phnom Penh reflect the “win-win policy” of our efforts to move forward in the ASEAN region. To achieve success in the ASEAN, the ASEAN itself provides the key. I believe that the strengthening of regional cooperation is a crucial determinant of the capacity to work together in the broader integration in ASEAN is an important way of strengthening cooperation in the ASEAN region. Indeed, integration is a basic step for market-oriented economic development in the context of the rapid globalization of technology and cultural interaction. These trends will define the ideology, political systems and structures in the new millennium.
In recent years, the trends of “globalization”, “regionalization”,and “localization” have catalyzed the rapid dissemination of technology due to the free flow of information and open markets.Thus it is an opportune time for the ASEAN Local Administration Forum to discuss the topic of “Local Administration and Localization” which concerns “decentralization and deconcentration”. Indeed, the ASEAN Local Administration Forum has, since 1995, provided an opportunity to better understand the experience and trends in local administration across the region and beyond.
This forum reflects the good relations among ASEAN member countries and the ASEAN leaders. This forum also emphasizes the good experiences, exchanges and deeper cooperation at the local level. Such exchanges of information, viewpoints, and experiences have expanded to many other countries. Indeed, the activities of the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations of Japan and other similar institutions have coordinated and facilitated the sharing of information, experiences and viewpoints among local authorities, worldwide.
The theme of this year’s ASEAN Local Administration Forum is “Local Governance and Decentralization”. In behalf of the Royal Government of Cambodia I would like to take this opportunity to share with all of you the major political activities and the results of the promotion of the local governance and decentralization process, which was fully implemented in Cambodia with the commune elections of February 2002. Please note that local governance reform has been attempted several times in the history of the management system of Cambodia. However in the previous attempts we were unable to turn our initiatives into reality due to war, political instability and other unfavorable conditions.
Since 1998 in my second term as Head of Government, I have initiated the ‘Triangle Strategy” of development. The three sides of this strategy are follows:
- First, to maintain and secure peace, stability and security for all the people and nation;
- Second, the rapid integration of Cambodia into the international community, including normal relations with donors financial institutions; and
- Third, to promote economic development and sustainable growth based on the deeper implementation of reforms in the military, especially demobilization, reform of public administration and the judiciary, fiscal reforms and sustainable management of natural resources and the environment, and the strengthening good governance based on decentralization and deconcentration.
These are the main components of our State reforms. The main objective of this triangle strategy is to build a Cambodian society at peace, with steady and rapid development, highly educated with no illiteracy, insecurity, diseases and protected human rights. This vision of development requires us to maintain market-oriented principles and the values of democracy, human rights and dignity as well as social justice. Indeed, this agenda requires the full implementation of our poverty reduction policies in the promotion of rapid socio-economic growth and development, which is our main agenda of our nation.
I am pleased to observe that the major accomplishments of Cambodia have been recognized over the last four years. Due to “win-win” policy, Cambodia is left its dark history behind and is moving toward a brighter future. Nowadays, the entire country of Cambodia is united under one Government, without rebellion, internal strife nor areas of secession.
Cambodia has rejoined the international community as a full-fledged member. Recently, Cambodia succeeded in the preparation and hosting of the major ASEAN and GMS Summits. Macroeconomic stability and rapid, steady growth has been restored. Moreover, many major advances in reforms have been achieved in finance, banking, civil administration, judiciary, land reform, forestry and fishery as well as the management of natural resources and environment. These successes have laid a solid foundation for Cambodia to move toward governance reform especially local governance based on the implementation of deconcentration and decentralization.
Due to this forum’s emphasis on local governance, may I share with you some of our Cambodian experiences in the establishment of the local structure and its process. What is “local governance based on deconcentration and decentralization?” How does it work? In Cambodia, “local governance based on deconcentration and decentralization,” is the participation of the people in the management of lives, transferred to the local authorities: provinces, municipalities, districts and communes. The local authorities are close to the people and thus it is easier for them to know more about the needs of the people. The implementation of deconcentration and decentralization system will imbue the local authority with more responsibility for their duties, thereby strengthening local governance.
In sum, in Cambodia, the decentralization process transfers political power for finance and administration to the local authority, down to the communes. The decentralized structure requires that local authorities are elected and be capable of decision-making. Moreover, “decentralization” is the transfer of financial resources and responsibilities to the local authorities which have been elected. On the other hand, the word “deconcentration” implies increase in the autonomy of the local authorities such as the Provincial and District Heads who have been nominated into office without election. Thus deconcentration maintains the strong relationship between the central and local authorities.
The allocation of resources to the local authorities will increase services to the public, as well as respond more promptly to the needs of the people in the economic and social development. Realizing this, the Royal Government of Cambodia conducted the commune elections on 3 February 2002. The government exerted its best efforts to ensure full security and peace during the campaign and election period. A thousand national and international observers witnessed that the commune elections were held in peace. Moreover, the elections reflected the free choice of the people in choosing their leaders. The Cambodian people are proud of the successful commune elections, considering it as the “Miracle in the Land of the Angkor”.
Compared to the general elections of 1993 and 1998, the commune elections of 2002 clearly reflected the positive revolution in the strengthening of democracy and the protection of human rights in Cambodia. The international community has recognized the results of the commune elections as the free exercise of the people to choose their leaders, in peace. Without question, this miracle has arisen form hard work and strong leadership and most especially, the people’s will.
Therefore, the commune elections have taken Cambodia a long way toward strengthening democracy and implementing the process of reform at all levels. The elected commune councils are the showcases of the local authorities’ capacity to improve the delivery of public services to the people at all levels, including the transfer of resources to local communities. The implementation of decentralization and deconcentration brings the development process closer to the people and society. Indeed, such structural reforms not only strengthen local governance and promote poverty reduction but it also reflects the heart and soul of the government and entire nation.
Indeed, Cambodia started to strengthen the decentralization and deconcentration of administration long before the commune elections of 2002. In 1996 with the implementation of the Seila program, the government decided to test the administration structure in terms of the decentralization of planning, financing, and local development management. The Seila program has served as a solid foundation of experience and provided the process of reforms of decentralization of administration with lessons for the long run. At present, the Seila program, along with the overall decentralization and deconcentration programs, has become the coordinating mechanism for the efficient mobilization of resources to support local administration and poverty reduction.
Another major lesson, which I have drawn from the implementation if the Seila program is that decentralization and deconcentration will strengthen democracy and make public services more efficient. Indeed, this reform program, implemented with the participation of the people, has reconstructed the relationship between the state and civil society. Based on the Seila program implementation during the last seven years the National Commune Support Council has been organized to manage the implementation of the decentralized system, including the regulation of the rights and role of the Commune Council. Also regulated is the delegation of powers and responsibilities to the Heads of the Municipalities and Provinces for the support of the commune councils. The regulations on the establishment of the commune fund, regulation of commune planning, financial system, financial transfer system, and financial management system are the solid foundation for implementing the work of the communes.
The commune fund which has been created by the government, will be used in three ways:
- First, for general commune administration;
- Second, for the development of economic infrastructure and social welfare in the commune, and
- Third, provision of local pubic services.
The establishment of commune fund has encouraged the building of the institutional capacity of the communes and provided the commune management with transparency, accountability and efficiency. Indeed, the commune fund requires strengthening of the capacity of the commune authorities to monitor its activities. Many difficulties arose in the first phase of implementation. Therefore, the government has concentrated on capacity building and training to enable the commune councils to better understanding their responsibilities and duties. In 2002, the system of “on-the-job learning” has been launched in all communes, and will continue to be fully implemented in 2003.
The major issue that has emerged in the implementation of decentralization and deconcentration is the weakness in local financial management capacity. Therefore I have defined a step-by-step strategy for work, but done at a rapid pace. In 2002, the Royal Government reserved 20 billion riels or USD$5 Million for the commune fund. In this connection, UNDP, Sweden, and the United Kingdom added another USD$2 million to the Commune Fund.
Despite significant efforts, we were not able to secure the funds we need in full. Still, to achieve our commitments in decentralization, deconcentration and local governance, the government will strive to increase the commune fund in order to achieve its administrative and development goals. Indeed, the commune fund will be increased, as follows: the increase in the allocation from the state budget from 1% of GDP in year 2002 to 2% in 2003 and 2.5% in 2005. We anticipate the allocation from the state budget of 40 billion riels, equivalent to USD$10 million in 2003, double that of 2002.
I am aware that the strengthening the local government through decentralization and deconcentration requires the exchange the viewpoints in management, both at the local and national levels. Support to the communes and villages to develop themselves, will reduce the burden on the national government. The Ministries and institutions cannot do everything. The government should let the communes and people do whatever they can. This will reduce the burden on the national government. Moreover, the participation of the people in local development is key to local ownership and sustainable development.
To ensure that the implementation of the decentralization and deconcentration policy is fruitful, we need:
- First, strengthening the consensus and commitment of administrations at all levels, by ensuring its complementation with poverty reduction, the key objective of the government. We must also prepare the administrative structure, build the planning system, the financial mechanism and proper monitoring. Moreover, clarity in the assignments among ministries and institutions as well as local administration is an important factor in the achievement of our goal.
- Second, the building up of capacity in budgeting and planning responsibilities at all three levels of administration: central, municipal/ provincial, and commune. Each administrative level should have budget support, plans and defined duties. In this context, it is important for us to prepare the regulations and monitoring system, as well as audit mechanisms in order to ensure accountability and transparency.
- Third, the ministries and relevant institutions have to provide more responsibilities and roles to their provincial departments in formulation of plan and implementation of national programs. In the five-year plan, the government ministries play the role of budget manager but the provinces will be formulation and implementation of plans. This will enable the provinces to use these resources to efficiently meet the needs of the people. This is the deconcentration in practice.
As I stated earlier, the important objective of the deconcentration and decentralization is to create local ownership, and encourage the participation of the people in the development process. Nevertheless, the decentralization and deconcentration of management, the transfer of powers in policy, finance and administration, and the responsibility for development to the local authorities does not mean “the creation of states within the State”. It merely denotes the transfer of duties and responsibilities of the local authorities that are already mentioned in the Constitution, consistent with the mandate of law and policy. Indeed, the abuse of rights and freedoms without heed to national destiny means extreme regionalism and a tendency toward secession. This has been observed in some other countries. Therefore, we have to clearly define the relationship between central and local authorities. As long as the local authorities are capable, the national government will provide more power to the people by enabling greater participation in the process of development. However, when the local authorities are weak, the national government will need to strengthen their capacity through training or sending national officers to help the local authority to implement its duties more efficiently. Indeed, a single formula cannot be applied to all.
I am convinced that Democratic local governance and decentralization is needed to sustain the government over the long term. The government is determined that the appropriate mechanisms will overcome all challenges. Despite the many challenges still to be met in the decentralization process, I understand that we have already started to achieve some gains. To ensure the sustainability of our decentralization reform, we need to adjust both the decentralization and deconcentration processes since these interact. The experiences of many countries show that without success in deconcentration, decentralization will not work well. In this regard, the government has implemented deconcentration in line with decentralization as part of the Governance Action Program. Decentralization denotes the delegation of power to the local authorities (municipal-provincial and district governors). The government has nominated these local leaders. “Deconcentration” keeps the strong relationship between the central authorities and municipal-provincial and district authorities.
I understand that despite some progress in deconcentration in some areas, the speed of implementation of deconcentration is slower than that of decentralization. Therefore, I have issued instructions to all concerned ministries and institutions to work harder and cooperate with the donor community to speed up the decentralization reform process to sustain our accomplishments, by the prompt formulation of strategic policies, task frameworks and guidelines on the decentralization and deconcentration process.
Our experiences and accomplishments reflect the ultimate will of the Royal Government’s efforts to address all challenges to enable the people to live in prosperity, dignity and happiness. The reform of local governance, decentralization and deconcentration is the process of strengthening local democracy through the transfer of power and the allocation resources to encourage the people to achieve development. I believe that this process will help to further strengthen political stability and peace which is important for Cambodia to upgrade the peoples’ lives, human rights and the provision of public services to meet the priority needs of the people and sustain growth in the long run.
The reform of local governance and implementation of the local administrative system based on decentralization and deconcentration is a new process. We have a long way to go. In fact, we do not have sufficient experience and we are learning as we are learning as we go along. I am sure that this ASEAN local administration forum will definitely provide the best opportunity for our officials to learn from other countries and absorb the knowledge from the innovative experiences of other countries.
As this forum is the most important, I would like to propose that the Ministry of Interior collaborate with the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations of Japan in the compilation of all documents from this forum for dissemination for all local authorities and concerned offices in Cambodia to expand the learnings of Cambodian officials in decentralization and deconcentration.
In behalf of the Royal Government of Cambodia, I extend my sincere thanks to the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations of Japan, in collaboration with the Ministry of the Interior of Cambodia in organizing this forum. I also sincerely thank H.E. the Ambassador of Japan and their Excellencies the Ambassadors of the ASEAN countries for their kind cooperation in making this forum a success. Finally, I would like to extend my best wishes, according to the five gems of Buddhist doctrine, to Your Excellencies, all guests, ladies and gentlemen for participating in this workshop.