Putting gloomy political environment aside, Cambodia is embarking on a journey to develop its development vision with the aim to transform Cambodia to become a middle-income country by 2030 and a high-income country by 2050.
The national budget for 2018, which was adopted by the National Assembly this month, illustrates that Cambodia is working towards a more innovative and inclusive society.
Education, healthcare and agriculture have gained more attention. The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport will get additional 25 percent with the amount of $852 million. The Ministry of Health will receive additional 16 percent with the amount of $487 million. The budget of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries will increase threefold. However, so far only the education sector has delivered remarkable reform results.
Innovation can unlock Cambodia’s potential. Innovation simply refers to the developing new ideas and policy instruments that can better address and solve the problems, and the creation of value-added products and services in both the public and private sectors.
To build an innovative society, Cambodia needs to carry out simultaneously four reform strategies, namely institutional reforms, market reforms, social reforms, and legal reforms.
Institutional reforms relate to innovation-oriented public policy and political leadership. The government has plans to invest more in STEM education and human capital development, which is the right policy direction.
The education sector is the most promising sector. Reform starts from the top and policy inputs start from below. Constant and robust reforms, with strong and dedicated leadership, have produced impressive outcomes.
However, some other public institutions have not been robustly reformed, leaving the room for misallocation of state resources. Most of the government ministries try to address the symptoms but not the root causes of the issues and problems – this is not an effective and sustainable approach.
Innovation in the public sector is therefore critical to improving public services. All public institutions should integrate the concept of innovation in their organisational culture. Innovation in the public sector will enhance public trust and confidence in the state governance.
Concerning the market reforms, the private sector needs to invest more in research and development, promote technology and knowledge transfer, and improve labour productivity through additional training and capacity building.
Public-private partnership plays essential role in mobilising resources and connecting knowledge to strengthen innovation infrastructure such as industry-university collaborations research and development.
Concerning legal reforms, Cambodia needs to allocate budget specifically for innovation, strengthen the protection of intellectual property rights, and reform patent law to encourage innovators to develop new products and services for the society.
Social reforms are needed to promote the culture of innovation. Cambodia needs to promote critical and creative thinking in the society, strengthening fast-learning skill and adaptation skills to fast-changing technological and knowledge revolutions.
Transforming people’s mindsets and mental frame at the individual, community, and national levels is
a must. The social and cultural system needs to be revised in order to facilitate creativity and innovation.
Looking ahead, the future of Cambodian economy very much relies on how much effort and resources will be put on innovation. The state, market, and society must work together to develop innovation strategy.
To realise its development vision, Cambodia must speed up reforms in all sectors and move towards building an “innovative Cambodia”. Reforms need to start from the top, while receiving policy inputs from below. Reforms in the education sector should be the role model for other ministries and government agencies to follow.
Strong and visionary political will and leadership, clean and effective governance, meritocracy, and democratic participation define the destiny of the country.
Chheang Vannarith is a Southeast Asia analyst based in Singapore and Cambodia.