Corruption, land conflicts among topics addressed in lawmaker-constituent dialogues
Frustration over government corruption, unequal application of the law and land conflicts was laid bare during a series of dialogues last year between lawmakers and Cambodians, according to a new report released by the National Democratic Institute.
The constituent dialogues held twice from January 2010 to September in 12 provinces, included both ruling party and opposition lawmakers, who do not regularly visit constituents, and residents who likewise rarely have the chance to directly advocate reform, according to the report by the USAID-funded organization and obtained yesterday.
“Participants described constant inequity with regard to land, law, enforcement, government services and provision of justice. Across provinces, people reported that those with money and influence received different treatment than those without,” according to the report. NDI has been sponsoring similar dialogues since 2004.
“Across the 24 public forums, people’s frustration and lack of patience with the continued conflict over land was clear,” the report said quoting one participant in Kompong Thom as angrily telling the lawmakers “People may be uneducated but they are not stupid and do not appreciate being treated as such.”
The dialogues allowed responses from both sets of lawmakers, who tended to tow the party line, with some CPP lawmakers responding to complaints by reading directly from the land law, and opposition lawmakers calling for a reduction in corruption and an independent judiciary, the report said.
CPP lawmakers frequently told participants that people did not understand the land law, and that people need to secure proper documents but did not clearly address complaints about corruption in obtaining such documents.
And while participants complained about the rich being favored over the poor and courts demanding money from villagers, CPP lawmakers often did not respond in detail, saying such activities are illegal and rare and that the courts are independent and not corrupt.
The report follows a January report by the US-funded International Republican Institute, which found seventy-six percent of those surveyed in a nationwide poll said the country is headed in the right direction, a decline from a 2008 high of 82 percent.
A CPP supporter at one dialogue called Mu Sochua, a SRP Lawmaker representing Kampot, arrogant and ignorant.
Ms Sochua yesterday said she welcomed criticism at the forums, which she said would help improve government accountability. Even so, she lamented what she said were restrictions on freedom of speech in Cambodia.
“The dialogues are very essential and it is one of the few things left in the very, very narrow space for democracy,” she said.
Cheam Yeap, a senior CPP lawmaker from Prey Veng, said the CPP also supports the dialogues as a way to continue to build democracy and a chance to talk about the progress in the country.
He said that overall, the CPP does address corruption in the country as evidenced by the anti-corruption law, but that detailed explanations are not necessary.
“I agree with CPP lawmakers not to respond in detail, because the rule of law is enforced. Rule of law means everything, because we apply the law,” he said.
Koul Panha, executive director for the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said the hard questions of the forums may be uncomfortable for CPP lawmakers but they also offer them a chance to show constituents what they are accomplishing.
“It is an opportunity for them to explain and argue about their role and progress that has been implemented,” he said.
Still, he said that currently the CPP tends to enforce strict party discipline, which makes it difficult for elected officials to address criticism specifically without violating the party expectations.
Regardless, the dialogues help instill some sense of accountability in Cambodian democracy.
“I found the methodology to be very well organized, and I think Cambodia really needs this culture of dialogue and forum and discussion between citizens and elected officials,” he said.