Your Excellency and Samdech, Deputy Prime Ministers, Co-Ministers of Interior and Co-Chairmen of the National Committee Supporting Communes/Sangkats;
Your Excellencies, Members of the Royal Government of Cambodia;
Your Excellencies, Ambassadors and Heads of UN and other Donor Agencies in Cambodia;
Your Excellencies, Provincial and Municipal Governors and Deputy Governors;
District/Khann Governors and all the Representatives of Communes/Sangkats:
Today, I have a great pleasure and honor to join you all in closing the Second National Conference of the Commune/Sangkat Councils (CS) and share with you all my view on decentralization in Cambodia. I would like to extend my profound gratitude to you all for your participation and valuable inputs raised in this conference.
Moreover, I highly appreciate the National Committee Supporting Communes/Sangkats and the Ministry of Interior for taking this initiative in organizing this National CS Conference, which is an important national event in 2004. On one hand, this conference is indeed an opportunity for us to review the achievements, difficulties, experiences and the challenges throughout all our decentralization reform efforts. On the other hand, it provides an ample opportunity to reflect and buildup the consensus among all the stakeholders to improve our policy and further implement the decentralization program.
Taking this opportunity, I would like to particularly appreciate the United Nation Development Programme (UNDP) and German Technical Assistance Project (GTZ) for sponsoring this conference.
Over the past 3 days, the conference has worked very hard to achieve its objective, reviewing the performance and difficulties in decentralization reform and revitalizing the process of establishing commune/sangkat associations which was once discussed in the first CS Conference in 2003.
As we all aware, the Royal Government of the Third Legislature of National Assembly has introduced the “Rectangular Strategy” for Growth, Employment, Equity and Efficiency in Cambodia. The core of this Rectangular Strategy is good governance focusing on four reform areas:
1. Combating Corruption,
2. Legal and judicial reform,
3. Public administration reform including decentralization and deconcentration, and
4. Reform of armed force especially demobilization program.
Indeed, we have clearly envisaged the decentralization and deconcentration as an important reform program which forms the core of the Rectangular Strategy. This reform program is a continuing process in implementing the Triangle Strategy of the 2ndterm Royal Government. In implementing this reform policy over the past 3 years, we have seen that decentralization reform program has made more progress than the deconcentration program. Moreover, the absence of policy framework, strategies and organic laws governing provinces and municipalities, and districts and Sangkats are the challenge of the RGC’s public administrative reform, which requires consistent realignment of the two programs. This includes improved coordination between vertical and horizontal lines of administration. This should be considered for appropriate change in order to ensure the governance structure at all levels having clear roles and authority and adequate resources to provide services and development that significantly contributes to poverty reduction. With this objective, the Royal Government established a working group to cooperate with donor working group to prepare medium- and long-term policy and strategy framework on decentralization and deconcentration.
In this process, the Royal Government has assigned the Deputy Prime Minister SAR Kheng to lead and provide guidance to the working group. I believe that the policy framework and strategy on decentralization and deconcentration will have positive impacts on administrative policy and institution in all the RGC’s ministries and institutions. Thus, this reform is such a big reform program that requires careful study and consideration. Due to the nature of this task, the Royal Government has established an inter-ministerial committee consisting of ministers from relevant institutions to prepare the draft organic law for provinces and municipalities and districts/Khans. In this sense, the working group preparing the policy framework and strategy on decentralization and decentralization shall work under policy guidance and direction of this inter-ministerial committee. I hope that the policy framework governing provincial/municipal and district/Khan administration will be submitted to the Royal Government for discussion in 2005 and the draft organic law governing these administrations will be prepared and also ready for consultation with all stakeholders in 2005.
Also, we should remember that the first term of Communes/Sangkat councils will end in 2007. Before this first mandate ended, I would like to propose to the National Committee Supporting Communes/Sangkats to review the policy, system and legal framework supporting the process of Commune/Sangkat decentralization. Indeed, this process is the outcome of consultation and agreement among all stakeholders that has begun in early 2005. Thus, the government will have enough time to make final decision on the scale and scope of commune/sangkat decentralization for the second term of commune/Sangkat councils.
As we all aware, decentralization was initiated with 3 broad objectives:
– Building up democracy with local participation,
– Facilitating economic and social development, and
– Contribute to national efforts in reducing poverty
At the same time, it is equally important that decentralization creates opportunity and promote the role of non-governmental organizations and local communities to participate in development process and ensure that the local population can express their needs and interest by demanding local authorities to response to their needs and interests.
Indeed, the Commune/Sangkat Councils were established with a mandate provided by the people in order to serve their interest. The Royal Government envisages decentralization and deconcentration to be a process that brings governance and public services closer to the people and transform governance to be participatory, democratic, accountable, transparent, and efficient. Moreover, provincial/municipal and district authorities must be proactive and continue to work hard to support communes and Sangkats, while fulfilling its active role in providing services and development. Therefore, it is important to establish cooperation between decentralization and deconcentration in which the two have to develop together.
Since the beginning of decentralization reform, it has drawn interest and concern from all milieus that have never had before. Many national and international institutions and experts have published several documents on decentralization in Cambodia. As for the Royal Government, the National Committee Supporting Communes/Sangkats has finalized its comprehensive assessment on decentralization. In addition, findings from the assessment are that decentralization reform contributes to strengthening of democracy with local participation and promotes initiatives at local levels for local development. Some other studies conducted by research institutes and reports of several programs supported by donors have shared the same conclusion similar to the findings in this assessment.
Despite such assessment, we are still at the earlier stage of decentralization. Thus, there is a long way to go. At this early stage, we are steadfastly moving forward with strong commitment and based on what that we have learned from others, and further building up on our good practices and experiences.
Taking this opportunity, I would like to briefly mention on achievements of the Royal Government in decentralization, since the commune/sangkat election in 2002:
First- policy framework and other regulations have been formulated with facilitation by the National Committee Supporting Communes/Sangkats. At present, this committee is further improving the policy and legal framework.
Second- we have assisted and provided the chances to all communes/sangkats in formulating and implementing commune/sangkat development plan reflecting the local needs and priorities, including partnership with other government agencies, NGOs, civil societies and private sectors. This kind of developments has not been occurred in the past.
Third- we can improve capacity of communes/sangkats and local institutions to fulfill their role and functions in the sort term.
Fourth- we have established commune/sangkat fund (CSF) and allocated resources for development and operation of Communes/Sangkats through this fund. The release of cash to CSF has been enhanced in 2004, and in 2005, the Royal Government has planned to provide 56,000 millions Riels, an increase of 6,000 millions Riels compared to the 2004 allocation.
Fifth- we can also establish the supporting system for commune/sangkat at the national and provincial/municipal levels. The setting up of this supporting system, including the establishment of local administration departments at national level, local administration units in provinces/municipals, local finance departments at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, and human resource development at grassroots level. Through this supporting system, we have had an understanding with regards to the capacity at all levels and committed to developing capacity of concerned individuals in the decentralization process.
Sixth- the SEILA programme has been strengthened across the country. This allows for communes/sangkats to have opportunity to receive support and services.
Based on these achievements, we have attained the confidence of our national development partners to continue support for decentralization reform in Cambodia.
Decentralization reform is a dynamic and evolving process in all countries including Cambodia. In this sense, I would like to highlight the necessity to formulate a long term policy and strategy on decentralization as well as on governance at sub-national levels to be consistent with policies identified in the Rectangular Strategy of the Royal Government.
To develop a long-term decentralization policy and strategy, there is a need to assess inconsistencies among policies that are now being implemented and coordinate for a consistency in all policy and legal frameworks, including coordination among concerned institutions at all levels. Thus, the National Committee Supporting Communes/Sangkats has to initiate necessary discussions for better cooperation among all relevant parties in the development of long term decentralization strategies. In this regard, the issue that needs to be focused is the consistency between decentralization and de-concentration as well as the establishment of a communication system based on smooth flow of information between institutions at sub-national and national agencies. I am convinced that all concerned parties will assist the committee to fulfill its important task.
Along with the establishment of administration system in rural areas, the governance system and development of urban areas are also new for Cambodia. Thus, the National Committee Supporting Communes/Sangkats has to cooperate with relevant ministries/institutions to formulate national strategy on urban governance. In this arrangement, it is important to assess the needs of regions with high population density, such as Phnom Penh. Provinces, districts and small urban areas of rapid progress shall be made into centers of development spilling over surrounding areas.
In this framework, I think that the district level is close to the communes/sangkats and to the people. Thus, the district level is the one that has an appropriate role and capacity to facilitate service delivery, development and poverty reduction. From this important role, the preparation of district administration system should be considered in the ways that promote cooperation between districts and communes/sangkats in the development and poverty reduction of every district.
International experiences indicate that grassroots institutions, having no own source of revenue and relying on governments, do not have good capability to address the local needs. Nowadays, we have the system allocating resource to communes/sangkats but do not have legislation on commune/sangkat own sources of revenue. Therefore, in order to build up effective commune/sangkat administration, we shall provide them with their own income. To meet this objective, the National Committee Supporting Communes/Sangkats and relevant ministries/institutions shall urgently arrange for communes and Sangkats to have their own sources of revenue in addition to the block grant allocated by the government. This will definitely stimulate the capacity of communes and sangkats to response to the local needs.
In future, support for development of local administration capacity at provincial/municipal, district and commune/sangkat levels should be conducted on regular, predictable and practical basis and with quality. To this end, we shall strengthen the supporting system to be the one which is sustainable and accountable to the beneficiaries. Thus, all stakeholders should carefully assess this issue and initiate the strategy for medium to long-term capacity development.
Indeed, linkages between decentralization and poverty alleviation can not automatically happen, unless we enhance the participation of people in local governance. People participation is very crucial for human resource development and the poverty reduction. Thus, key players of the Royal Government, civil society and the non- governmental organizations shall promote people participation in decision making, ensuring that decentralization contributes more effectively to poverty mitigation. Moreover, communes and other levels of governance should come together to accomplish the purpose of poverty palliation. We should remember that if basic services provided without knowledge of people needs, the services will not response to their need.
In Cambodia, commune councils, non-governmental organizations and civil societies are deserved the encouragement for development partnership in serving people. For the last three years, example of partnership has obtained wider positive views. Thus, partnership corporation have to be further developed.
Take this opportunity, I highly appreciate all the provincial governors /deputy governors and district governors/deputy governors for supporting the community/district councils. I would like also to congratulate the commune/sangkat councils for the great achievements that the Royal Government is very satisfied of them. Now, I would like to remind you all that, in order to become good and effective commune/sangkat leaders, you must be a proactive person and be responsive to the needs of people. You should have a good coordination with your people and your commune council. You must abide by laws and procedures, regulations and practice good governance principles and be a good example for your commune. Moreover, you shall put the commune’s interest before your own, and be prepared to respond to the needs of people in performing your duties effectively.
I am delighted to learn that the conference has accelerated the process of forming commune council associations. In other countries, such associations share the responsibility and are important partners in promoting decentralization and good governance. Thus, I am pleased to see that Cambodia is following this worldwide example. I wish the associations with success, and urge for impartiality, responsibility and capability in performing duties.
Finally, I highly appreciated the Ministry of Interior, National Committee Supporting Communes/Sangkats, UNDP and GTZ for cooperation in organizing this conference. I would like also to express my sincere thanks for the valuable inputs of all participants. I wish you all success in your future endeavor and happy New Year 2005. Let me wish you all, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen the five gems of Buddhist blessing.