The long-awaited cabinet reshuffle is expected this year after the public disappointment over the low performance of some ministries. Prime Minister Hun Sen made it clear early this week that underperforming ministers will be removed.
Ideally, it should have been done much earlier, especially right after the general election in 2018. Some ministers have not delivered as expected. Nepotism and corruption still have been widely practised within some state agencies.
It needs to note that the legitimacy of the government relies much on the outcomes of the reform and the fair distribution of economic growth.
Peace and stability cannot be sustained unless there are job opportunities, social justice and inclusiveness and strong democratic governance.
Adaptive leadership needed
In this fast-changing world, we need leaders who are adaptive and transformative. This means that the leaders must take bold steps to create valuable and positive change, constantly reform their organisation to adapt to changes and build an innovative team in order to meet emerging challenges.
We need good governance at all levels, from national to sub-national levels. To effectively deal with corruption, we need to implement a top-down approach. Leaders must be the role models for the followers. If the leaders practise corruption, there is no incentive or motivation for the subordinate to be clean.
To prepare Cambodia for Industry 4.0 (the fourth industrial revolution), we need a leadership that embraces digital transformation by integrating updated technology into the management and governance system. Knowledge of cybersecurity and digital infrastructure development is a must.
Meritocracy is the core
Meritocracy, a governance system that is based on merit, should not be just a policy rhetoric; it needs real, concrete actions. In many cases, those who have money and/or family networks tend to get fast-track promotion.
A reward system in the public sector has been widely irregularly implemented. The key performance indicators of public servants are not really taken into account. Consequently, public trust in government institutions is quite low.
To build a prosperous country, Cambodia obviously needs many more technocrats and technical experts than politicians. We have a serious issue here: There is an inflation of politicians who are pursuing power and wealth rather than the common good.
The recruitment and promotion of public servants must strictly follow the merit-based system. Nepotism kills meritocracy. We need to be aware that without justice and fairness in the public institutions, there will not be effective reforms.
In this respect, several ministries have been speculated about. Some have already undergone minor changes but with no tangible effects. Some key ministries are underperforming. The idea or notion of appointing cabinet members for the sake of appointing must be avoided. A lean, effective and delivery-oriented cabinet must be in place.
If it necessitates some heads to roll, let them roll. Better some heads than the whole government.
Reforms vital to good governance
Democratic values should not be considered as solely Western values. All societies have to embrace the values as they reflect people’s aspirations. Government by the people and for the people is fundamental to state- and nation-building.
However, it does not mean that some countries are allowed to interfere in others’ domestic affairs under the umbrella of democracy. Democratisation is a journey that requires full, quality participation from all stakeholders especially at the grassroots.
Across the globe, especially in some Western countries, democracy is being challenged by populist politics, political extremism and disinformation. Inequality, injustice, unfairness, xenophobia and lack of confidence pose a significant threat to a democratic system.
It will take time for Cambodian people to fully and meaningfully participate in the democratic process. First and foremost, the people need to understand what they can do to contribute to nation-building, participate effectively and constructively in the political process and hold their political leaders accountable.
Putting the people first is the basic principle of governance. The foundations of democracy are sustainable and inclusive economic development, an educated and responsible citizenry, a passionate and empathetic populace and dedicated democratic leadership.
Constant institutional reforms and leadership development play a critical role in democratic governance. People-driven and people-centred reforms are the key to consolidating democratic governance.