PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – Cambodia’s current administration system is the legacy of a long period of political turmoil shaping a particular survival opportunistic mindset of a whole generation.
“Nevertheless, a generational transition has been engaged,” said Dr. Ok Serei Sopheak, a founding member of Cambodia’s Transparency International and academic. “Like it or not, the new generation of young leaders from all walks of life that I have been talking to have the common vision that the civil servants would have to be more technical and professional, and certainly much less political.”
He added that when that time comes, there would be clear separation between a reasonable number of the come-and-go politicians and an effective number of the career administrative/technical civil servants running an efficient bureaucracy.
“I don’t think that the government has been waiting for the opposition to join the parliament before engaging in many important reforms like in the following key sectors: Decentralisation, Education, Public Finance Management, Public Administration Reform, Commerce and Trade, Environment, Public Service Deliveries etc.”
Mr. Sopheak pointed out that all these reforms were in progress before the 2013 election, but significantly pushed after it.
Unfortunately, apart from some exceptions, these reforms need more than the next three years before people could perceive benefits in their daily lives.
Mr. Sopheak said his research revealed that people really want to see “change” in three key issues: Economic Land Concessions, the judiciary, and corruption. Little has been done and a bit late, but perhaps it’s better late than never.
“People have seen the wide gap between the rhetoric of the national leaders and the reality on the ground,” he said, when commenting to Khmer Times about the pace of reforms pledged by the Royal Government and its slow take off.
Academic Dr. Chheang Vannarith said that certain reforms have been implemented, but slowly. The people have not seen tangible results of the reform yet and this is what counts. Corruption appears to remain rampant and is systematic in nature.
“Reforms should be measured by work effectiveness and results,” he said. “People will judge on this. Cambodia should learn from Singapore. Strong leadership and bureaucratic capacity are the foundation of development.”
He added that the reform pace is slow as it is difficult to change the leadership structure of some ministries and agencies given vested interests involved.
“Despite the high expectations and rhetoric that the Opposition, now sitting in Parliament, has the power to summon Cabinet Ministers and other senior officials for questioning, it is also worthwhile to note that such action has not been much publicized or could be attributed to the fact that National Assembly only came out from recess recently,” said Mr. David Van of the Bower Asia Group. “So time wise it was still too short a time technically to achieve more in terms of reforms,”.
He added that reforms have only been initiated by “some” Ministries. It’s like having only one limb of a human body being addressed while the other 3 limbs remain untouched.
“How could then the human body function more effectively with such approach? The good majority of other ministries are in stand still format and their way of doing things haven’t changed at all for there’s a strong reluctance, for change simply put,” he said.
“Comprehensive Reforms are painful and take time to turn out concrete results, but such a bitter pill is necessary to overhaul the system if the CPP wants to ride on a more positive note come GE 2018,”he stressed, referring to the next parliamentary elections.
Mr. Phay Siphan, spokesperson for the Council of Ministers, conceded that reforms could not take place overnight.
“The Government is under scrutiny all the time and we must be doing something right to continue receiving developmental aid from multilateral and bilateral partners,” he said. “The Government’s reform process has been somewhat stymied by certain activities which is somewhat sapping the energy from the Government, in tackling issues which are in nature, a law and order and rule of law problem but has been heavily politicized.”
He maintained that the Government knew what was at stake for the country, the people and the ruling party and as such, reform was not a conversation piece, but a necessary policy which has to be implemented, irrespective of how bitter it would be.