Time to move forward with CPP’s reform agenda

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President of the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) and Prime Minister Hun Sen, smiles before a ceremony at the party headquarters to mark the 37th anniversary of the toppling of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge regime in Phnom Penh, in this January 7, 2016 file photo. REUTERS/Samrang Pring

The Sixth Mandate of the Royal Government has now well passed its first 100-day test. This is the benchmark for each new mandate, to test its mantle and set the agenda for the next five years or so.

For the ruling Cambodian People’s Party led by its president and Prime Minister Hun Sen, the real test started on December 21 – at the end of the CPP’s annual congress which concluded the day before.

The historic voting in of seven additional permanents into the permanent committee, which can only be done with the demise of the sitting member, shows the party president’s vigour and intent on getting younger blood as well as spreading the positions between civilian members as well as top brass of the military.

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On the same tone and manner, the prime minister was quite blunt in talking about decentralisation and his cabinet being given until 2020 to show reforms and deliver services at the subnational level. This is a new initiative, direction and timeline. The 100 Village Development Model, which is being developed under the framework of the Asian Cultural Council (ACC), will add more impetus to governance reforms at the local level. Linking sustainable development goals of the United Nations with local development strategy in Cambodia will be the development philosophy.

Khmer Times in an editorial on December 11 hit out at the inadequacies at the subnational level and how subnational leaders were an obstacle to the prime ministers reform and development agenda.

It is gratifying to note that the prime minister has put his cabinet on notice to deliver services to the grassroots and given an ultimatum on decentralisation – which can only be done effectively with sustained and coherent reforms. At the same time, Mr Hun Sen has also sent a warning to the subnational level, especially to the 25 provincial governors, that come 2020, it would not be business as usual but rather business unusual as cabinet ministers would be breathing down their necks to achieve key performance indicators (KPIs) within a definite timeframe.

On this note, the prime minister also – not so overtly – sent a message to his cabinet, especially to some of the ineffective members in important portfolios that their “honeymoon” period would soon come to an end. Reading between the lines, will the much awaited cabinet reshuffle finally take place?

This reshuffle is needed critically as it will mean younger blood are introduced into the cabinet with newer bolder ideas, proactive decision-making or innovative suggestions. This will put an end to procrastination and reactive actions.

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The mid-term or even earlier than scheduled cabinet reshuffle will be another milestone in public sector reforms. More young leaders will be empowered to take leadership role with the hope that they will give more impetus and innovative ideas to reforms. Public sector innovation and leadership are critical to future reforms.

The cabinet reshuffle is also needed for another even more important reason. The local political scene is currently dynamic, where banned opposition politicians have been given a lifeline to return back to the mainstream, albeit not into the banned CNRP but into other existing, legal political parties. The important developments also necessitates changes to be made at the cabinet level.

People do have short memories and this has been proven time and again in other countries, and also closer to home in neighbouring Malaysia. The euphoria of change in Malaysia has rapidly dissipated into frustration, anger and racial outbursts – shaking the very fabric of Malaysian society.

The same cannot be allowed to happen in Cambodia as the country’s peace has been hard won through a combination of a carrot and stick approach. The well-known win-win policy initiated by the prime minister in late 1990s is the basis of political reconciliation and national unity. Prime Minister Hun Sen is a strongman with open heart. As long as mutual respect and mutual interest is adhered to, he is willing to compromise and take bold steps to achieve common goals.

The political lifeline of the banned 118 politicians from the outlawed opposition party will be gradually extended. The prime minister has again shown his mantle in politics and being a statesman. It needs to be noted that external pressures do not work, and internal healing and reconciliation processes work. In times of uncertainties both at home and abroad, Cambodia really needs strong and transformative leadership.

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The ball is now in Prime Minister Hun Sen’s court. The prime minister has shown that he can be statesman when needed. He now also needs to show true grit and act as a leader who exudes strong political, executive and personal will to tackle the ills which plague the country in its quest for political, and economic security, and above all – transparency at all levels of government.

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