It is a great honor and pleasure for me to help bring to a close of this First Nationwide Conference of Commune Councilswhich is of great historical importance for the country and our Cambodian people. On behalf of the Royal Government and my own self, I highly appreciate and congratulate the Ministry of Interior and the National Committee for Communes Support for organizing this conference on time that enables the sharing of experiences and taking stock of the achievements and the challenges resulted from our efforts to implement the decentralization policy with all stakeholders at national, provincial and municipal, district and local levels as well as with our international partners.
After the Commune Councils were elected on 3 February 2002, the new councils have implemented their work in accordance to the principles of local governance by making improvements to the provisions of public services for all Cambodian people at all walks of life considering it as top priority. Through those activities, the implementation of decentralization policy during the first year is concluded with numerous achievements. Along with those achievements, we though have had facing some problems and new challenges arising from the implementation of our work. Thus it requires all of us together to strengthen our achievements as well as jointly solve the challenges and together prepare further strategies and action plan that will help expending the results even better. I consider such a forum as a most appropriate mechanism for dissemination and sharing the above prospects thus seeking common solutions through an interactive and consultative process among all the stakeholders and our assistance partners.
Therefore, I wish to take this opportunity to express my deep appreciation and profound gratitude to the UNDP Decentralization Support Project and the German Technical Cooperation Project (GTZ) for sponsoring the organization of this conference, providing the opportunity for all the stakeholders to get together sharing their experiences and activities after having implemented the first year decentralization program. Also, I wish to deeply thank the donor community, NGOs and the civil society for their continuous assistance in the implementation process of the decentralization policy in Cambodia.
According to the report on the overall results of this conference made by HE Sar Kheng, Deputy Prime Minster and Co-minister of the MOI, we learn that our meeting has reviewed and taken stock of the experiences from our first year work to improve policies and strategies for further implementation of the decentralization. At the same time, the conference has also considered initiatives to establish an association of commune councils in the Kingdom of Cambodia. During these almost three days, you all have engaged in an open and frank discussion and came up with many recommendations for future actions. The RGC is convinced that the decentralization is an interactive and forward looking process toward improvements in the governance system that is to bring the “governance” closer to the people.
As we all aware that the Royal Government in its second term of office has established a firm foundation for long term development through the implementation of the “Triangle Strategy”, which consists of the following three elements:
First, achieve and strengthen sustainable peace, security and stability in the whole country;
Second, fast track a full integration of Cambodia into regional and world community;
Third, place utmost emphasis on economic reforms to promote growth and poverty reduction among our people, including the governance reform which is an integral part focusing on the implementation of decentralization and deconcentration policies.
If we have a look at what the RGC has achieved during one year period after the historical commune elections in February 2002, we all realize that there are many things have been achieved during this short period. Let me take this opportunity to make some comments on the key achievements as follow:
First, we have established decentralization policy and legal frameworks for the local authorities under a framework of inter-ministerial coordination efforts by the National Committee for Commune Support. The policy and legal frameworks have presented a gradual transformation of mandate, authority, roles and resources from the national government to communal levels.
Second, there have been coordination and facilitations for the communes to develop their long term plans as mandated by the law during the first year term of the commune councils. Through these plans, it reflects the needs arising at the grassroots levels and the start for the communes to develop plans responding to those needs correspondently to their own efforts with the support from ministries/institutions, other agencies, NGOs, civil society, the private sector and our development partners.
Third, we have provided basic trainings on decentralization, development of local planning and financial management to all members of the commune councils. The trainings have generated a wide-range general knowledge on decentralization and local development among different stakeholders ensuring diversified participation in the reform process.
Fourth, we have already established the Commune Fund, though in the past one year only one third of communes have been receiving resources for development. However, the situation has been improved since 2003 on through increased resources from the national budget that enables resource allocation to all communes. Thus, in the situation when the national budget needs to cover a list of spending priorities this transfer of funds from national level to communes testifies the efforts with resolved political commitment in moving the decentralization process forward.
Fifth, we have established a system for supporting communes/sangkats at national and provincial/municipal levels in order to improve the link between decentralization and deconcentration. At the initial stage, we recognize the limitation in capacity at all levels including the capacity of the supporting system. Nevertheless, what we have achieved in this short period of time can be considered as a positive development. In the subsequent years, the “commune support system” is required to be further improved and strengthened along with the developments of decentralization and deconcentration processes.
Finally, we have received general support from people and the trusts from our assistance partners in further providing support for the implementation of decentralization policy in Cambodia.
As with the above-mentioned achievements, I would like to draw your attention on the challenges which usually occur with our activities. Indeed, whenever we produce any result it will always generate a new challenge that we must solve it to further expand our achievements. In this sense, I wish to indicate the need for establishing medium to long term policies and strategies to pave the ways for our further journey.
Based on the inputs from the conference, we must consider for developing policies and strategies for medium and long term implementation of decentralization and it requires updating those policies and strategies every year. Thus, we must focus on solving the issues with regard to the inconsistency in the existing policies that helps to create a consistency in the legal framework, promoting coordination and links between stakeholders at national, provincial/municipal, district and communal/sangkat levels. Thus, the National Committee for Commune Support will not only lead the dialogue to develop links between key stakeholders for appropriate medium and long term policies and strategies formulation, but also carefully prepare sequential policies and strategies that enable the reform process move forward smoothly and consistently.
Also, in the process of implementation, it is required that the coordination between the “horizontal” and “vertical” structure of governance at all levels be established, which is an efficient link between the central and the local authorities, by using provincial and district levels as coordinating agencies. In developing of management systems at provincial and district levels, we must focus on fostering good governance with appropriate distribution of mandate, authority, resources and capacity to those administrative authorities for their effective coordination of the decentralization and deconcentration.
In the decentralization process, in order to ensure the consistency in resource, function and responsibility distribution, it is required that further research, analysis and evaluation be conducted to determine appropriate sources of revenue for communes. So far, the RGC has established a “block grant” payment system for the communes, however, the provisions of their own source of revenue have not been specifically determined. Thus, further we have to consider on gradually allowing the communes to have their own source of revenue that will reduce the dependency of the local authorities on the central government.
Another important issue in the decentralization process is to develop the capacity. The capacity development must be implemented at all levels for proper functioning in efficiently providing services and having the capacity to review and monitor the activities, maintaining the quality of services and improving the “good governance” practices. Thus, I advise the National Committee for Commune Support and all the concerned agencies to carefully assess the different issues and start formulating an appropriate capacity development strategy to promote the process of decentralization.
In the implementation process of decentralization with the participation from people in the decision making such as planning, resource mobilization, prioritization of activities, implementation, service delivery and decisions on equitable delivery of services, the decentralization will effectively contribute to solving the issue of human resource development and poverty reduction. Thus, all the concerned players must recognize that citizens are the core stakeholders in any mechanism for decentralization. With this reason in mind, the policy of the RGC in its second term of office have focused on decentralization and deconcentration; – that will bring changes in behavior and practices at the grass root level in the reduction of poverty. In providing services at local level, wills of people must be strictly met with the provision of effective services and development. Thus the progress of democracy and the development depend on the development of human resource, while the poverty will be reduced when the development of human resource moved to a higher level. This is the objective of the decentralization that contributes to the poverty reduction.
In general, through experiences and practices in Cambodia the NGOs, civil society and communes should work as partners in order to ensure a proper implementation and serve people with a right target and effectiveness. In this first year, positive outcomes clearly demonstrated this relationship and partnership. Therefore, we must strengthen this partnership in the process of further implementation.
Taking this opportunity, on behalf of the Royal Government of Cambodia and my own behalf, I would like to extend my sincere appreciation to the governors, deputy governors of provinces/cities and communes across country who have actively worked to support the commune councils in the first year. At the same time, I would like to welcome and highly value the achievements that the commune councils attained in the first year in spite of the fact that members of the commune councils are new to this new governance system.
May I take this occasion to call on all commune councils to pay attention on the issue of coordination among all actors concerned and request the commune councils to ensure the effectiveness of their process, aimed at strengthening democracy at the local level and improving the delivery of key public services such as construction and repairs of roads, bridges, walls, schools and health centers. I believe that the implementation of the decentralization and deconcentration policies sharing and transferring power to local levels will not only vigorously promote the strengthening of democracy at the local level, but it will also improve the livelihood of people and encourage people to actively move forward towards the attainment of progress in the future. I am strongly convinced that all commune councils will continue to implement their tasks in accordance with the principles of “good governance” and will provide a model of “prioritizing the interest of citizens above an individual’s interest”, and they are fully ready to become good servants of people.
May I also take this opportunity to draw your attention on governance in urban areas and management of urban areas, which are the new challenges for Cambodia. The socio-economic development policy of the Royal Government of Cambodia together with the country’s economic growth has made urban areas rapidly increase in Cambodia. Thus, we have to be well prepared to solve the issue of urbanization in this 21st Century in order to accelerate our socio-economic development. May I request the National Committee for Commune Support and the Council for Administrative Reform to start studying on the governance of urban areas, especially to foresee three kinds of situations: the areas which have many people such as Phnom Penh capital, provincial centers, district centers, and small urban areas which are increasingly expanding.
In this regard, I welcome the discussions and initiatives of the conference on the establishment of the Association of Commune Councils in the Kingdom of Cambodia. I believe that this association will play role as an important partner in promoting the process of decentralization and the implementation of governance at the local level. In the process of forming the association, I would like to draw your attention on the linkages between the actual practice in Cambodia and its clear objective in line with responsibility and accountability.
Before I conclude, I would like to thank for your presence at this occasion. I would like also to convey my appreciation to all governors, commune councils and all participants of this conference that have worked very hard over the last three days.
Finally, on the occasion of the traditional Khmer New Year which is coming next week, I wish all of you success, happiness and prosperity. I would like to declare the conference closed.