WASHINGTON DC —
Democracy has taken root in some areas at a local level since Cambodia held its first commune council elections 15 years ago, but the capacity of local officials to deliver services is still limited, analysts say.
Governance specialist Ok Serei Sopheak told a Hello VOA last week that the local politics was more transparent than before; people receive better services, and they are more able to speak out if they receive poor services from local governments.
However, with low funding for local development crucial needs such as schooling and healthcare still falls short of demand, he said.
“The development is still ill-funded with most of the budget allocated being used for paying officials,” Serei Sopheak said. “Therefore, from one year to another this low budget can only be used for fixing roads after destruction from rains. There are still demands in schools, health centers, agriculture, and finding markets.”
Sopheak said there is a lack of cooperation between police and elected officials at the commune level.
“The police do not seem to pay attention to commune chiefs on processing paperwork,” he said. “They do things independently, which has led to inactivity. But people are braver and dare to express their dissatisfaction.”
Cambodia held its first commune council elections on February 3, 2002, beginning a process of decentralization.
Serei Sopheak said the legal and administrative capacity of commune councilors was still limited, prompting the central government to appoint clerks, who are trained by the Ministry of Interior.
This is also another source of conflict because some clerks do not cooperate well with their councilors.
“As a matter of fact, if the opposition holds the post of commune chief, but the clerk favors the ruling party, there is certainly difficulty,” he said. “There should be reform.”
Currently, political parties are still in charge of nominating their candidates to run for the commune positions.
This makes the parties’ influence on the elected officials even stronger. This is in contrast to what voters want. They want their commune chiefs to be accountable directly with them, Serei Sopheak said.
He added that the best solution would be to amend the election law to allow individuals to run for office without being a member of a political party.
“If we can do that, I think the commune chiefs or the city mayor are accountable to their people rather than the party.
“This is a big political reform and I dare not believe that it will happen any time soon. But if the reform is through this path, I believe that there will be a big and positive change.”
The next commune council election is schedule for June 4.