Your Excellencies, Members of the Royal Government of Cambodia;
Distinguished Representatives of the Donor Community;
Your Excellencies, Governors and Deputy Governors;
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today, I am extremely pleased and honored to participate in the closing of this important National Workshop on SEILA Program 2004 to share with all of you some of my thinking on the challenges the SEILA program is facing in its quest to support the policy reform of decentralization and deconcentration, in the context of overall state reform in Cambodia.
May I congratulate and highly appreciate the SEILA Steering Committee’s Secretariat for its effort in organizing this workshop, in collaboration with its development partners. I consider this as a forum for national policy institutions and concerned provincial/municipal operators with our international partners to take stock of the 2003 performance and challenges as well as to propose work plan for 2004.
To take this opportunity, I would like to express my deep gratitude and appreciation to the “Partnership for Local Governance” of the UNDP with co-financing from Sweden and the United Kingdom in supporting the SEILA program of the Royal Government. In general, the SEILA Program has showed two points of its strength:
First, the pilot phase of SEILA Program and “Partnership for Local Governance” has provided many lessons for the national institutions in charge of policy formulation, especially the National Committee for Supporting Communes/Sangkats and the Ministry of Interior in formulating national policies and regulations on decentralization.
Second, once a number of regulations finalized the SEILA Program has continued its support to the actual implementation through the organization and strengthening institutional structure and human resource as well as providing finance for investment at the provincial and commune/sangkat levels via the Commune/Sangkat Fund. Moreover, in implementing its program SEILA has provided many best practices in further fine-tuning the regulations. Currently, we have more than 1,500 civil servants, both at national and provincial levels, who have been actively participating in the implementation of SEILA Program.
I know that in the past one day and a haft you have listened to the presentations and clarifications of my colleagues as well as participated in a broad discussions on key topics with regard to the process of SEILA implementation in 2003 including the difficulties and challenges that have occurred within the general context of decentralization reform program of the RGC. You have also discussed and agreed on an action plan and budget for the 2004 operation. May I congratulate and highly appreciate all of you for your comments in an open manner and provided constructive recommendations to help us overcoming those policy, institutional and working procedure challenges aimed at improving the effectiveness and efficiency of SEILA program , promoting the sustainable decentralization and deconcentration reforms, as well as to successfully implementing the NPRS, because the decentralization is a process of democratization aimed at improving governance structure in order to improve the effectiveness of public service delivery to citizens.
I was informed that the SEILA Program has a budget of about USD40 million for 2004 which the Steering Committee of SEILA (CDC) and the Ministry of Economy and Finance have mobilized from donor community including the UNDP, International Fund for Agricultural Development, World Bank and from Sweden, UK and Denmark. With co-financing arrangement between the Government and donors, SEILA has become a national program covering all provinces and municipalities across the entire country. Such a co-financing arrangement truly testifies the full support of donors provided to governance reform program of the Royal Government in decentralization and deconcentration in general. In particular, it shows the confidence of our international partners on the effectiveness of the management structure of SEILA as well. On this basis, I see the efficiency and transparency of SEILA management are the most important or I can say the “die or survive” factor for this program.
Decentralization is an important part of the governance reform within the general context of state reform. In this sense, SEILA has helped the Royal Government to realize considerable achievements in past years, especially after the commune/sangkat elections. I would like to sum up those results in the following four points:
1. SEILA has helped creating policy and legal framework including regulations for the local authorities in conformity to decentralization, such as regulation on mandate and role of commune/sangkat councils, the delegation of power to governors to support commune/sangkat councils and the role of commune secretary so on and so forth. The introduction of policy and legal framework as well as those regulations has indicated strong commitment of the Royal Government in implementing governance reform to gradually improve the distribution of power, mandate, roles and resources between national and commune/sangkat levels.
2. SEILA has helped train commune/sangkat councils to formulate their own development plans. The formulation of development plans with direct local participation would indeed appropriately respond to the priority need of communes and sangkats as only the local people themselves are well aware of their own needs. In this context, SEILA has provided training on decentralized administration and financial management to all commune/sangkat councils across the country to improve wide-ranged awareness on local development management with broad participation from population. Moreover, SEILA has also trained provincial staff to understand the methods of decentralized management by provincial/municipal authorities and their functional offices in support to commune/sangkat councils.
3. SEILA has helped create and introduce the commune/sangkat funds, which get biggest share of funding from the national budget and the rest from “Partnership for Local Governance” project. In the first year that is in 2002, only one quarter of communes/sangkats had received fund for development. This situation has been immediately improved in the second year (2003) with increased funding from the national budget by the Royal Government that has enabled the allocation reached to all communes and sangkats in the entire country.
4. SEILA has helped strengthening partnership between 8 national institutions and all levels of authorities in 24 provinces/municipalities across the country. In addition, through the arrangement for the formulation of commune/sangkat development plan SEILA has strengthened its partnership with civil society, NGOs and the local people. Furthermore, SEILA has strengthened partnership with donor community. So far, six donors are in agreement to use the structure and management of SEILA as a channel of their assistance and implementation of their aid projects.
All these are the achievements gained from national unity and the resolved determination of the Royal Government and the efforts of the authorities and civil servants at all levels with full financial and technical support from all our international development partners. Nevertheless, the Royal Government recognizes that there are many difficulties and challenges ahead which we must solve to strengthen and expand further our results. I would like to raise some critical challenges and share some recommended solutions as follow:
1. Institutional challenge
So far, ministries and institutions at national level have established many committees at provincial and municipal level and transferred some responsibilities to those committees to implement activities in their respective sectors. The key point I want to raise here is that most committees have very similar composition while their responsibilities are mostly duplicated. I am aware that the workshop has focused its discussion on this issue and proposed option for the possibility of institutionalizing those structures into a unified structure. This is indeed very crucial, as when we have a unified and clear structure we would be able to ensure an effective ownership in our cooperation with assistance partners in order to promote the development projects at the grass-roots level.
Thus, I would like to express my full support of the outcomes of the workshop and urge the National Committee for Supporting Communes/Sangkats, the Council for Public Administration Reform and the SEILA’s Steering Committee to cooperate with other concerned institutions to finalize the review of the organization and management structure at the provincial and municipal level as well as the formulation of required guidelines and regulations within the first year of third mandate Royal Government. The realization of this work would considerably contribute to the accelerated reform of decentralization and deconcentration and to strengthening the governance of the RGC.
2. Financial Challenge
Actually, the Ministry of Economy and Finance has been working hard in mobilizing revenue and channeling the funds to the locals. That is why the commune/sangkat councils have been receiving their salaries on time. However, the Royal Government recognizes that there are some delays in disbursing development fund to the local because of the decline in national revenue linked to unfavorable internal and external factors, especially the emergence of SARs in the region as well as the lack of cash to meet the biggest demand for expenditure especially those concerning democratization process in the third mandate national election.
As I was reported by HE Senior Minister Keat Chhon that early last week the MEF has released additional funds for local development projects. I would encourage the Senior Minister to continue to pay greater attention to settle such the demand. Moreover, development partners have expressed their understanding of the situation and are seeking solutions to reduce the difficulties through the framework of “Partnership for Local Governance” via the quarterly meeting between donors and SEILA Secretariat General. The Royal Government expresses its deepest appreciation for the flexible position of our developent partners in helping solve this critical issue. As a Khmer proverb says “good friends help each other in a difficult time“. Thus, this indeed testifies our strong partnership between the Royal Government and our development partners.
Concerning the finance issue, our Law on Commune/Sangkat Administration allows the commune/sangkat councils to have their own sources of revenue. However, so far the national authrities have not specifically define types of revenue in this category yet. Thus, we shall start studying and considering the arrangement for the communes and sangkats to have their resource gradually according to a multi-paced principle based on economic status of each commune or sangkat that is to reduce full dependency of local authorities on national government.
3. Political and strategic challenges
As I have already mentioned in many occasions that decentralization reforms must be run parallel to deconcentration reforms due to the mutual supports between these two reform programs. Experience from various countries has shown that decentralization alone cannot achieve sustainable goal if it lacks strong supports from deconcentration.
Particularly in Cambodia, we do have some visions and experience, which are sufficient enough to form the basic foundations of for the preparation of the policy and strategy framework for deconcentration. Nevertheless, we do realize that we still need technical and financial supports for the preparation and implementation of this policy framework.
Firstly, we actually have institutions for policy preparation and implementation along with various development partners. Secondly, deconcentration experiences do differ from one country to another. For these reasons, we should consider the possibility of forming a mechanist of coordination such as a task force for decentralization and deconcentration within the consultation-meeting framework for the preparation of policy and strategy for deconcentration, for regulations actuality on decentralization and for the smooth implementation between decentralization and deconcentration policies.
In this context, I also notice that while there is a lack in policy framework, several national institutions continue to implement the existing management system, which is centralized and operates in resistance to decentralization and deconcentration currents. Please allow me to, once again, inform you that ministries and institutions cannot nor try to do anything, which is related to the needs of the local level of administration. We have to leave local authorities to do what they can do because local authority participation in local development is the key of ownership and sustainability in development.
In order to strengthen decentralization and deconcentration policy implementation, I recommend related ministries and institutions to delegate more responsibilities to provinces and vertical departments in preparing their plans and implementing programs or development projects even if we also need to preserve these vertical departments under the responsibility and general coordination of specialized national ministries and institutions. Such a deconcentration implementation will allow provinces and municipalities to have additional resources and be able to use them to respond efficiently to people needs. But we need to figure out that policy makers at national level must carefully prepare the deconcentration policy in a way to avoid the situation of “state in State”.
4. Challenges in preparing visions of SEILA program after 2005
The first phase of the SEILA program will end at the end of 2005 and 2003 is the year where half way of the program had been implemented. One of the many special characteristics of the SEILA program is that the program has created an organization and trained human resource for the implementation from national to local levels countrywide.
Moreover, I also aware that till the present time, there are six development programs, which have their time limit after 2005, with the total budget of millions USD100. These programs are currently implemented using organization and human resource of the SEILA program. Two important reasons that urge aids providers to implement this way are: firstly, SEILA is an incredible organization, and secondly, aids providers have considered the efficiency of the program implementation by cutting enormous amount of budget on support expenditure and program management and by allocating maximum budget on investment.
This is the stance that the government supports and wants to see many more of such implementation in other programs. In this spirit, I strongly appeal to the aids community to continue to support the SEILA program for the phases after 2005. Even if the phases after 2005 may take another name and operational activities other than the actual ones, I still believe that the main goals of the program remain the important working framework for the aids mobilization, which will support the decentralization and deconcentration reforms in order to strengthen good governance in Cambodia.
As you may know, decentralization and deconcentration reforms are the most fundamental reforms in the Sate activities and especially, they are reforms in working attitudes of the public servants in all level. These reforms have just begun from the start and still have a long way to go through. Management of special programs, transparent budget management, accountability and efficiency are the highest priorities of the good governance principles of the government. In this direction, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, let me propose to all of you to continue to improve the cooperation more actively and closely and I do appeal to the aids community to continue to extend the necessary supports both technical and financial in implementing SEILA program in 2004 and afterwards within the general framework of the decentralization and deconcentration reforms. This is to extend and improve the public services to serve the concrete needs of local people.
Once again, on behalf of the Cambodian government and people and myself, I would like to express the profound gratitude to the development and aids partners who have provided supports for the poverty alleviation and the sustainable development in Cambodia especially great supports both technical and financial for the success in decentralization and deconcentration reforms of the royal Government in general and particularly for the success of the SEILA program.
Finally, in connection to the Khmer traditional Pchum Ben, which is coming next week, let me wish you all, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen Members of the Royal Government, the Representatives from Aid Community and Distinguished Guests present here the five gems of Buddhist blessings. My sincere thanks for your attention.