More than a year after the February 2002 commune elections, power has not been transferred to the commune councils, participants in a public forum said Thursday.
Commune councils still do not have any authority, while corruption remains rampant, said commune council officials and residents at the Public Forum on National Issues at Phnom Penh’s Russian Cultural Center.
“We have tried and carried out our task actively in the name of decentralization, but decentralization is just printed on the paper,” said Khum Saroeurn, second vice chief of Rokar Krav commune in Takeo province’s Donkeo district. “Actually, I have not enough power to enforce my duty.”
The 2002 commune elections had aimed to increase the authority of officials at the commune level, shifting power away from the national government.
But, Khum Saroeurn, a member of the Sam Rainsy Party, said corruption, especially among clerks working in the commune offices, was undermining the duties of officials. Commune clerks, he claimed, sometimes charge citizens more money than necessary for birth certificates and other documents, while other clerks take official stamps home.
Other commune council officials who attended the forum, which was hosted by the Center for Social Development, agreed.
Ly Chhengky, chief of Tuk La’ak I commune in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kok district, said all of the stamps needed to officially approve documents had been removed from the commune office.
Funcinpec parliamentarian Princess Norodom Vacheara, who was also at the forum, blamed the Ministry of Interior for withholding power from the commune councils.
She added: “The commune clerks are nominated by the Ministry of Interior, so it’s a serious matter whenever the clerk commits corruption.”
Princess Vacheara also said elections should have been held to nominate new village chiefs following the commune elections, but in many cases, that has not happened yet.
Suy Serith, deputy director of the department of local administration at the Ministry of Interior, acknowledged some of the complaints raised during the forum.
“I acknowledge that there are some loopholes in enforcing decentralization in Cambodia, especially in the matter related to commune clerks’ corruption,” he said.
But, he said, out of the 1,621 communes nationwide, only a small percentage of clerks take home their stamps and they do so to protect them from theft.
He added that decentralization is a slow process and would be completed eventually.
“Forming the new government and new National Assembly, we have to have dialogue and divide the role and power of commune councils, otherwise the same problem will arise,” said Funcinpec parliamentarian Kol Pheng, who also attended the forum.