Nearly one-third of Cambodia’s newly elected commune chiefs are abusing their positions—ignoring the other members of the elected commune council, acting unilaterally and failing to operate transparently, according to a new survey.
In a spot survey of 16 communes throughout the country, conducted between May and August, the Star Kampuchea Organization found that the councils remain politicized and government-controlled. “The commune councils are stuck,” organization Executive Director Nhek Sarin said. “[Some of them] don’t even have their own office.”
Most communes are still following orders from provincial and district authorities instead of exercising their autonomy, according to the survey. In addition, opposition Sam Rainsy Party members elected as commune chiefs often have little power—the CPP council members simply bypass them, the survey showed. “They were elected by the people. Why don’t they have the right to do anything?” Nhek Sarin said.
Teams from Star Kampuchea interviewed 11 commune chiefs, two first deputy chiefs and three second deputies in Phnom Penh and four provinces.
Of the 16 communes surveyed, one had no office at all for the council to work in. Ten had very small, windowless workspaces, and several councils met in the commune chief’s house. Only five of the councils had dedicated offices in good condition, the survey showed.
The survey found that 30 percent of chiefs were impeding the council’s progress, but the other 70 percent were working hard to promote decentralization, political neutrality, transparency and proper operation of the council.
Under the decentralization law that outlines the powers, responsibilities and practices of the councils, the communes are eligible to receive funds from the central government once they have drafted budgets and five-year development plans. But according to the survey, seven communes had no system in place to plan a budget and 10 didn’t know where to get funds.
Nine of the communes had succeeded in getting funding. The average amount was 13 million riel (about $3,250) from the government, NGOs, fees for issuing documents and the Seila program, a joint government-UN grassroots development project.
Commune officials also were asked about their needs. Several said they wanted more education and training in areas such as human rights, computers, accounting, agriculture and especially governance, the survey states.
The officials also asked the government for office supplies, ideas about development and help building schools and libraries.
They also expressed anxiety about the appointment of new village chiefs; the law provides for this, but the Ministry of Interior has not yet issued guidelines for the process.
“According to these results, we judge that the implementation of the commune council law has not yet produced positive effects,” the survey concludes.
In a separate letter sent to the Interior Ministry, Star Kampuchea urged the government to speed the decentralization process.