The US government’s development agency held a ceremony in Phnom Penh yesterday to launch its five-year, $16.2 million Accountability in Governance and Politics program.
“Cambodia’s democracy is still young, but it has made substantial progress since the election in 1993,” US Ambassador Carol Rodley told the audience at the event.
Ms Rodley said three groups, the National Democratic Institute, International Republican Institute and International Foundation for Electoral Systems, had already started implementing the USAID project, which was launched with the aim of promoting transparency and accountability in the government through a variety of programs.
Also speaking at yesterday’s ceremony, Cabinet Minister Sok An welcomed the USAID program and hailed the democratic improvements Cambodia has made since the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime.
“Since Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, we have made significant progress [in democracy], and it should be the pride of all Cambodian people,” Mr Sok An said.
He added that the draft law on NGOs and the recently passed anticorruption law would make government more efficient.
SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua, who attended the ceremony, said from the sidelines that she disagreed with Mr Sok An’s view of the country’s progress and the new laws.
“As long as people are being jailed for their values and views, you cannot say there is progress,” Ms Sochua said.
Ms Sochua said the SRP supported USAID’s focus on accountability and transparency, but added that other issues need attention first, including the election laws. She said this was necessary because the National Election Committee lacks independence and needs to improve its voter registration process.
“A full election process…starts with the voter registration list,” Ms Sochua said. “For the 2008 election, not even my name was on the list.”
NEC Secretary-General Tep Nytha said yesterday the electoral process had steadily improved since 1998.
“Maybe [Ms Sochua] talks too much about politics,” he said.
Laura Thornton, NDI resident country director, wrote yesterday in an e-mail that her organization would, as part of the project, hold meetings between elected representatives and their constituencies.
“The aim is to strengthen [National Assembly] relations and increase accountability,” she wrote, adding that NDI will also pay for and produce political campaign ads to be aired on television in the run-up to the 2012 and 2013 elections, and sponsor multi-party debates.
John Willis, IRI resident director, said yesterday his organization planned to bring in international experts to educate young people about the political process.
(Additional reporting by Phorn Bopha)