Commune councils will receive significantly more money in 2004 than in previous years, an Interior Ministry official said this week.
“Previously the communes didn’t have such a budget before holding the commune elections,” Sak Setha, the Interior Ministry’s administrative general director, said during a roundtable discussion organized by the Committee for Free and Fair Elections.
About $41 million will be approved for the commune development budget in 2004, Sak Setha said. Communes received only about $7 million in 2002, when the first local elections were held, and about $15 million this year.
The 2004 national budget still must be approved by the National Assembly. The government can, however, use 1/12th of the 2003 budget on a month-to-month basis until the new budget is approved.
Before the elections, commune councils handled only administrative and security issues, said Phan Sothea, an official with the Commune Council Support Project, an NGO that works with commune councils. Now councils can work with local civil society groups to draw up development plans to present to the government.
Sak Setha said political disputes arise between commune members, but the partisan atmosphere has toned down since the elections.
“We were very concerned and afraid that we couldn’t work together,” Sak Setha said. “But, currently, commune council officials talk to each other a lot, and this is what I call democracy.”
Commune councils will have the right to hire new staff with the increased income, but the government plans to regulate their hiring practices. “The Interior Ministry is scared that commune councils will select their relatives to work for them,” Sak Setha said.
Buot Thida, commune chief of Daun Penh district’s Phsar Thmei III commune, said her commune expects to receive about $10,700 in 2004, about four times more than the commune received last year.
“All commune council members from three political parties are cooperating closely to develop our commune,” she said.