Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Keynote Address at the Dissemination of the National Program for Sub-National Democratic Development

Phnom Penh, August 9, 2010

Excellency Sar Kheng, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Interior and Chairman of the National Committee for Sub-National Democratic Development,

Excellencies Deputy Prime Ministers, Senior Ministers, Ministers, and Members of the Royal Government, the National Assembly and the Senate

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, Ambassadors and Representatives of Development Partners,

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my pleasure today to join in the Dissemination Ceremony of the National Program for Sub-national Democratic Development. Taking this opportunity, I would like to extend my sincere appreciation to Excellencies, Ladies ad Gentlemen and all stakeholders, involved in this reform program, for the valuable contribution through this milestone decentralization and de-concentration policy.

We can recall that since 1993, the Royal Government has fulfilled its mandate to seek peace and national unification, and introduced an array of policies to rebuild the nation following years of chronic civil war and internal conflicts. Starting from scratch and chronic civil wars, Cambodia has gone through a rapid transition period to achieve what we see today including peace, political stability, macro-economic stability and national progress. The current peaceful, stable and safe condition is the pre-requisite for growth and future prosperity of Cambodia. With this concrete foundation, Cambodia is striving to deepen its reform programs and strengthen the national economic policies to ensure sustained growth for rapid poverty reduction and improved people’s livelihoods.

These achievements indeed stem from the firm implementation and deepening of various reform programs which also include decentralization and de-concentration reform. Along with this, as it implements this historic reform program, the Royal Government has a clear policy agenda and strategy to create a new realistic opportunity for addressing issues arising from governance reform within the framework of the national reconstruction.

In particular, after 7 years of our effort, we have made a notable achievement as the decentralization and de-concentration reform has positively changed the behavior of communal councils and people in the development of their own localities. This positive behavioral change is the core of local development and poverty reduction and plays an important role in promoting equitably sustained social welfare at the local level.

Along with this, the achievements and experiences of the commune/sangkat councils have encouraged the Royal Government to expand this sub-national level reform program attested by the adoption of Strategic Framework for Decentralization and De-Concentration Reform in June 2005. Based on this framework, the Law on the Administration of the Provinces/Municipalities and Districts/Khan was adopted in May 2008 and another historic event – the election of the provinces/municipalities and districts/khan councils took place in May 2009. Through the election and based on the Law on the Administration of the Provinces/Municipalities and Districts/Khan, we are restructuring the above administration authorities to transform them into a governance authority which acts as a unitary authority with full capacity to deliver services to local people and be the backbone for local development.

To achieve this objective, we are obliged to clear many obstacles with long-term political determination to build the provinces/ municipalities and districts/khan and strengthen commune/sangkat councils according to the principles stated in the organic law.

Moreover, the principles of the organic law require ministries/institutions to transfer appropriate responsibility and resources to sub-national level with appropriate authority to fulfill the role and manage resources to ensure sustained sub-national democratic development. The Royal Government still oversees the implementation to ensure that the local authorities fulfill their role in accordance with the constitution and national interests. Although decentralization and de-concentration aims at providing local autonomy to sub-national authorities, this does not mean they have sovereignty over their administered zones. Moreover, the implementation of decentralization and de-concentration policy does not either mean the separation between lower and higher authorities but it requires strengthened cooperation and mutual support between all levels of authorities.

However, I would like to take this opportunity to reveal the issue of local autonomy which is the core of the program to clearify some misunderstandings.

Based on the vision of the organic law, the national program is designed to support the sub-national level autonomy. There are two major causes for the support of sub-national autonomy, including:

1. Assurance of improved effectiveness and efficiency of the implementation of national policies and public expenditure. That means if the sub-national levels are linked with the national level authority through an appropriate delegation of power and appropriate autonomy for formulating and implementing policies within their administered zones, sub-national authorities can do better as they are fully aware of local issues.

2. The provision of autonomy to sub-national levels can be both essential and obligatory. Apart from helping the national level authorities in implementing national policies and providing public services, they must fulfill their mandate in sub-national democratic development stated in the organic law. Sub-national authorities are able to prepare and use the budget and implement policies and programs for local development in response to opportunity and demand.

In general, providing the autonomy to the sub-national level will contribute to the use of national budget resources and attract various resources of the locality for further effective local development.

I would like to illustrate that decentralization and de-concentration has not just been done at the commune/sangkat level, but also at the whole sub-national levels. In this spirit, this reform will be complicated by not just affecting the governance institution of the sub-national level, but also deeply affecting the national institutions, that are related to the function, resources, structure, working system, including the behavior and habit of implementation at the national and sub-national levels.

Since decentralization and de-concentration is related to the national and sub-national levels and with other development partners and stakeholders, the Royal Government is required to set up a clear cut mechanism that is consistent and smooth among the other national and sub-national administrations and various stakeholders in order to strengthen joint commitment in the implementation according to the set objectives. In this connection, the Royal Government has already gained experiences since the start of reform at the communal level through creating the national committee to support the commune/sangkat and then has been changed to be called the National Committee for Decentralization and De-concentration, that is now transformed to be “the National Committee for Sub-national Democratic Development (NCDD)” that is clearly mandated in the organization law.

At the same time, due to the complication and sensitivity in the reform process, it is required to seriously prepare appropriate phases for this reform based on the foundation of coordination, discussion, consultation and transparency in order to prevent the clumsiness in the implementation. Based on this vision, under the leadership of the Royal Government, the NCDD has been preparing the national program for democratic development at the sub-national level for 10 years starting from 2010-2019, by spending almost 1.5 years to prepare the comprehensive consultation among the national ministries/institutions, sub-national administrations, development partners and civil societies.

This national program has been discussed and adopted during the cabinet session on 28 May 2010. The national program has been set up in order to achieve the vision reflected in the strategic framework for decentralization and de-concentration. Therefore, this national program for sub-national democratic development is the set of interrelated programs that consist of content and necessary process for: (1) implementation of long-term strategic framework for decentralization and de-concentration that can be adjusted as deemed necessary (2) implementation of organization law (3) defining necessary policies and strategies related to decentralization and de-concentration (4) defining and implementation of various supporting projects to support local development, capacity building, investment, public service delivery, management of natural resources and environment as well as the institutional development of the sub-national administration (5) delegation of functions from national levels to sub-national levels.

In this connection, I would like to illustrate that the success of the implementation of this national program is totally relying on the method that we all must participate as partnership in the implementation of this national program for years ahead through planning the 3 years implementation from 2011-2013. The national program and national implementation plan for the first 3 years will use the implementation strategy under the efforts made by the Royal Government with the coordination support from development partners in order to jointly achieve our reform objectives.

In this context, I would like to highlight a number of key issues that need to be urgently solved. We are now in the process of beginning phase 2 of the decentralization and de-concentration reform. We have just set up the municipal/provincial, district/khan council with new roles and responsibilities based on the framework of organic law. Therefore, we have to consider primarily on providing basic resources to those administrations by fulfilling their works because this sub-national level require resources in order to function its generally mandated roles with new accountability aiming to respond to the need of the local people. These administrations require competent officials, management system, buildings, offices and materials, means and other necessary need for implementing its mandated works required by the organic law. The Royal Government is committed to providing its limited nation budget resources in order to meet these needs and we strongly hope that various development partners will actively participate with the Royal Government in supporting the implementation of the national program and the 3 years plan for implementation.

Regarding this issue, there are 4 ministries/institutions being responsible for the implementation of this national program. The Ministry of Interior has to be responsible for transferring officials serving in the municipal/provincial and district/khan council into the new structure of these administrations and preparing a management system that ensures principles of democratic local governance and decentralization and de-concentration according to each administration along with the capacity building of officials and staffs of the sub-national levels to be truly professional. The Ministry of Economy and Finance must be responsible for preparing financial system, budget and property management of the sub-national levels according to each kind of administration whose roles and functions is to be responsible for clearly defining the power and responsibility of each of those administrations in managing and using the budget with transparency and accountability. Along with that, we have to provide training, capacity building for officials in financial and sate owned property management with efficiency and transparency. The Ministry of Planning must be responsible for preparing planning system for sub-national development that is in line with the system and structure of each sub-national level. The Secretariat of the Public Functions together with the Council for Administrative Reform must be responsible for creating laws and legal documents in managing officials of public function of the sub-national level as well as sustaining the human resource management of the sub-national levels.

In actuality, the governance reform is not just the decentralization and de-concentration, but also the coordination between decentralization and de-concentration with other reform agenda, especially the public financial management reform and public administrative reform, which are the key sectors of the national program. Regarding this issue, the Ministry of Economy and Finance, Ministry of Interior, Council for Administrative Reform, Secretariat of the Public Functions and other ministries/institutions related to the issue of governance must monitor, observe and ensure that the efforts of coordination have been implemented with high attention.

As I have illustrated already that NCDD has the obligation to be a direct agency of the Royal Government in ensuring the implementation of the organic law. This inter-ministry mechanism has been mandated to review the “roles, duties and responsibilities of related ministries/institutions and authorities in all levels in defining various functions delegated to the sub-national levels”.

This vital process is the core of implementing decentralization and de-concentration reform. Based on this foundation, NCDD together with other ministries must immediately inform transparent process in order to prepare and analyze their current roles and responsibilities within the framework of organic law as well as to identify appropriate function to be delegated to sub-national level. Indeed, devolution, especially with respect to public service delivery is pretty complicated process and involving all levels of administration. We not only pay attention to delegation of key functions such as functions related to basic health care or primary education, but also care and think carefully about what function suits what level of administration. At the same time, we must consider financial resource, human resource and other necessary resource for to-be-delegated functions. In order to ensure that function analysis and devolution go smoothly and will not affect regularity of public service delivery, NCDD must prepare plan for transferring functions and resources hand-in-hand with capacity of administrations who will receive those function and resources. During the course of transfer, in case of inadequate capacity, transferring institution must be responsible for delegation and capacity building for that administration in order to ensure that transferring process occurs at appropriate time.

During the process, ministries/institutions at the national level will face change in roles and responsibilities. Notwithstanding, despite delegating function and resource, respective ministries remains broadly accountable for respective sectors including policy formulation, setting national standard, controlling, making regulation and legal documents, providing counseling and support, and monitoring and evaluation of performance of council of sub-national administration with respect to efficient implementation those delegated tasks. The council of sub-national administration must be accountable to the government by conforming to provision of organic law and financial accountability by adhering to auditing and security provision of other financial affairs.

In overall, this reform gives focus to sub-national administration. We had started these tasks from commune/sangkat; and we will provide fund and capacity building to commune/sangkat councils to ensure delivery of primary service that matches the administration because they are close to the people and most people clearly understand local priority need. At the same time, we must also consider capacity development of district/city because the district/khan administration and commune/sankat administration is the core of good local governance in Cambodia. Based on the national program, provincial administration has duty to implement project with high technicality and broad benefit within ones’ jurisdiction, and to play role in monitoring, advising and building capacity of district/khan and commune/sangkat councils.

The council of sub-national administration needs obvious support for their new roles as representative of the sub-national level and as local decision maker. This support will be provided within the framework of the national program with consultation and close cooperation with the National League of Commune Council. Moreover, the National League of Commune Council shall be provided institutional capacity development and shall expand coverage and increase membership as I hope that the councils of provinces/municipalities and district/Khan will jointly establish their associations soon.

Obviously, sub-national administration must be adaptable to decentralization and de-concentration policy, organic law as well as the national program. These administrations must consider their new roles and responsibilities and participate in the discussion on decentralization and de-concentration policy and implementation of the national program. Along with that, sub-national administration must discuss and encourage participation from local partners including private sector and civil society in shaping vision and preparing strategic plan. Furthermore, that administration must be ready to take charge and carry out to-be-delegated functions. This process will hugely affect attainment of democratic development in Cambodia, and through this process sub-national administration would be able to deliver quality public service in response to local needs.

Along with that, implementing the national program requires change in behavior, mindset and way we work. Indeed, this change will be difficult for each of us and we must be ready to overcome the challenges emerging from this change. We will face shift in roles and responsibilities, obviously through the establishment of sub-national administration we will see change in those administrations for instance the governing board must be accountable to their council, while the council must be accountable to voters.

To ensure this transformation, besides capacity building, we also need transparent information dissemination, discussion, facilitation and agreement. Therefore, information dissemination is integral part of succeeding the national program in which the NCDD plays role to continue disseminating and analyzing information related to decentralization and de-concentration. We will use and draw lesson from those information as a basis for a better policy decision.

On the behalf of Royal Government of Cambodia, I am very pleased to see gender issue being identified in the national program as multi-sectoral issue. This provides excellent opportunity to promote gender equality and role of women in decision making at every levels of sub-national administration. Also, we will have chance to encourage voice of youth in local decision and promote youth cohort into future leadership at all levels of sub-national administration.

Taking this opportunity, I would like to reaffirm critical success factor for implementing the national program that is participation of ministries/institution and sub-national administration based on whole-government approach. Regarding this issue, I would like all development partners to have consensus to support the national program in facilitated manner based on program-based approach. This approach will promote facilitation, need for less report and operation cost as well as to ensure that on-going project and program is incorporated in or at least is aligned with the national program, and all intervention for sub-national administration will be included in support for the national program.

Once again, I would like to highly appreciate valuable participation of Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen in decentralization and de-concentration reform from the beginning until present. I would like to thank all development partners who have been providing full support with good will for decentralization and de-concentration reform and I would also like to thank NCDD for organizing this important dissemination ceremony.

At the end, along with the Dissemination of the National Program for Sub-national Democratic Development, I would like to wish Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen the 4 gems of Buddhist blessings: Longevity, Nobility, Health and Strength.

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