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New Program Aimed at Aiding Delivery of Public Services in Phnom Penh

Trucks carry workers on a flooded street as the daily transportation brings them to home from work near Trapang Anchanh village, outside Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

A new program is being put into place in Phnom Penh aimed at enabling nongovernmental organizations to help combat the Cambodian capital’s growing problems stemming from traffic and litter.

Not long ago, the city was one of Southeast Asia’s few capitals with wide, open boulevards not overly crowded with cars and litter, but that is changing. Cambodia’s economy has been growing at more than 6% a year and with that has come more business, more people, and more problems. That is why traffic jams and waste collection were the top complaints raised by Cambodians this past week, when the Phnom Penh Municipal Council held a public forum to listen to constituents.

Politics in the former French colony usually get attention when an official is accused of stealing an election, or when a political opponent is thrown in jail. However these issues feel far away for many Cambodians, who just want their local politicians to make sure that the water runs when they turn on the tap, or that the trash is picked up every week.

Monitor, improve services

Now, under a new program, nongovernmental organizations will be able to step into the space between politicians and their constituents, by creating tools, such as smartphone apps, so that people can determine whether and when public services are being delivered.

“This is a coordinated, five-year effort,” Veena Reddy, the U.S. Agency for International Development mission director for Cambodia, said in an emailed statement. “It will deploy cutting edge technology that will allow citizens and officials to monitor and use data to improve key public services affecting all Cambodians.”

USAID, which is funding the effort, did not disclose how much money it is spending for programs that support public services. NGOs using the funds include FHI 360, the Institute for Development Impact, the Triangle Environmental Health Initiative, and Nikol Global Solutions, all based in the United States. The groups are set to start at different times. For example, the Institute for Development Impact will start in January.

FHI 360, for instance, is using development aid money to create a database for Cambodians to check on their municipal services. The organization said its work “will ensure that citizens gain the knowledge, skills, and innovative tools needed to improve public services in urban areas through the application of social accountability tools.”

Holding politicians accountable

The effort’s goal is to allow Cambodians to keep track of the services that their local governments are supposed to be delivering, such as primary education, health care, waste collection, and water services. For instance, an organization could use the development aid money to develop an internet app that shows residents when trash pickup is scheduled for their street, as well as giving them a comment box to let authorities know when something goes wrong.

In theory Cambodians would use tools like this to hold their politicians accountable. The tools digitize a public feedback process that is currently analog. In real life Cambodians are already complaining to their politicians when the streets become clogged or when the trash piles up, such as at this week’s public forum. Municipal Council chairman Pa Socheatvong said his council can’t do its duty without local input.

“We will try to build a stronger rapport with the people so that we can provide them with better services,” the Phnom Penh Post quoted him as saying. He added that “if the people refuse to participate and leave it all to the government then the plans will not succeed.”