The World Bank has committed $36.25 million in aid to the government for rural investment and local governance at the commune level, adding to the $22 million the bank has already given to the project, officials said.
World Bank spokesman Bou Saroeun said Monday that the money would go directly to commune officials in both rural and urban areas to fund local development projects.
“It is for what the commune thinks is a priority,” he said. The latest grant will finance projects from 2007 to 2009, with about $15,000 allocated to every commune in the participating provinces, he added. In the first phase of the project, which ran from 2003 to 2007, each commune received $8,500 from the bank, and the success of that project led to the expanded program, Bou Saroeun said.
Some of the grant money will also be allocated for capacity building and technical assistance to support government decentralization.
SRP President Sam Rainsy said Monday that the multi-million-dollar project was unlikely to achieve decentralization at the commune level and would mostly continue to concentrate power in the hands of CPP commune officials.
“The project does not transfer power or the division of labor at the commune level,” he said, adding that CPP officials, who control most of the country’s communes, do not involve officials from other parties in the decision-making process.
National Assembly deputy president and CPP lawmaker Nguon Nhel said the project would help strengthen local governance, denying that ruling party officials dominated the commune-level decision-making process. “Commune councilors are not individuals—they are making collective decisions,” Nguon Nhel said.
Thun Saray, president of local human rights group Adhoc, said that local officials would be empowered by providing them with a budget. But projects should also include the participation of independent community leaders to provide outside input and monitoring, he added.
(Additional Reporting by Yun Samean)