The Interior Ministry is developing the curriculum for a “School of Good Governance,” which from 2016 will bring officials from the provinces to Phnom Penh for a crash course in acting with integrity, a ministry official and an NGO partner said Monday.
After completing the three-month course, officials will return to their respective provinces, where the government intends to set up “centers for human development” to train other civil servants in what was learned in Phnom Penh, they said.
“Part of the government’s reform agenda is to build and strengthen the capacity of our civil servants at national and subnational level,” said Ngy Chanphal, a secretary of state at the Interior Ministry working on the project.
“There are existing problems and there are new kinds of problems, but the most important is improving the efficiency of our public service. This efficiency is an important part of democratic infrastructure,” he said.
In September 2013, at the height of the political standoff between the ruling CPP and opposition CNRP, Prime Minister Hun Sen delivered a marathon six-hour speech warning his new cabinet to prepare for increased public scrutiny in the fifth mandate.
“[S]crub your body while bathing if it is plagued by dirty things,” Mr. Hun Sen instructed them, referring to the endemic corruption that pervades the civil service.
Mr. Chanphal said Monday that the ministry’s good governance school was “not just about corruption,” and that it would build on existing training programs with the aim to “establish and maintain integrity.”
“It is more than corruption: It is about service delivery, conflict resolution, accountability,” he said. “We have 15,000 government officials; we don’t have a problem identifying who needs this training.”
Mr. Chanphal said the ministry had yet to sign a formal agreement with Transparency International (TI) Cambodia, which according to its executive director, Preap Kol, will provide experts to develop the curriculum, a training manual and the three-month program that will be undertaken by a total of 150 officials at the subnational level.
“TI Cambodia will mobilize both internal and external resource people to train the [Interior Ministry’s] trainers on both technical skills and teaching methodology,” Mr. Kol said, adding that experts from the Norway-based U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Center and the Malaysia Anti Corruption Academy would be involved in developing and delivering the training.
“We don’t call it an anti-corruption school, we call it the school of good governance and it deals with transparency, corruption, fair elections, nepotism and a range of other issues.”
In its latest Corruption Perceptions Index, TI ranked Cambodia 156th out of 175 countries.
Mr. Kol said Monday that TI Cambodia was currently working to produce a series of 10 training sessions, which will address issues such as abuse of power, nepotism and bribery and be delivered to a range of officials.
“It could be governors, deputy governors, whichever officials are assigned to get involved…. We hope those selected are champions of reform,” he said.
“When we have disseminated this expertise and skill in a setup inside the government institution, there will be no excuse.”
Told of the plan, Ou Sam An, the CPP governor of Kompong Speu province, said the school of good governance would be useful for all officials, and that he himself would jump at the opportunity to participate.
“I need to learn to do my job better in order to reduce criticism from the people,” he said, adding that while his office was clean of outright corruption, he could not be so sure about nepotism.
“Corruption, no, it has not happened,” he said, “but nepotism, bringing relatives to work at the office, I am not so sure.”
In Stung Treng province, Siek Mekong, the CNRP chief of Sesan district’s Srekor commune, said nepotism was rife at the district level, and also welcomed the chance to enroll in the school of good governance.
“In fact, in Sesan district, the governor [Yieng Srey Pheary] is the wife of the director of administration [Thien Kimhean],” he said. “This is nepotism; it is a disease that stops students from being able to work for the state.”
While the Interior Ministry’s program might help powerful people understand the harmfulness of corruption, Mr. Mekong said, the problem is unlikely to be wiped out completely.
“It cannot be reduced by 100 percent. Even if government officials received great salaries, they would continue to be corrupt for life.”