Reform Swiftly or Flounder

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PHNOM PENH, (Khmer Times) – The ruling Government must undertake  swift, deep and far reaching reforms to convince the electorate of its capacity and capability to  govern beyond 2018.
In stating this, Ambassador Pou Sothirak,  Executive Director of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace (CICP)  said reforms were long overdue and this was a tipping point against  the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) in the last election. 
A legitimate question that is often raised by those working for the Government in Cambodia but not the outsiders is: Why reform the Government? Most of them believe that things are going well and the costs of bringing about these reforms will prove to be disruptive for the economy as well as for administration.
In principle, reform of an administration is much more complex than reforms to the economic sector. 
Structural economic reforms to improve Cambodia’s prospects for competing in the globalized economy require stable, functioning, competent and responsive institutions for implementation. 
But unfortunately Cambodia is at  present caught in a difficult logjam. While the need for economic reform themselves may create fear of  dislocation and displacement in the transition period, strong working institutions provide the where withal and armory to withstand these shocks thus minimizing the costs of adjustment and maximizing the benefits to the poor and neglected. 
The urgency to build up strong institutions to implement these structural reforms is therefore quite obvious.
Following this logical sequence the various organs of the State – Executive, judiciary and legislature – have to be assessed and evaluated to determine whether they are capable of meeting this new challenge or do they need to be re-vamped to develop new capabilities and build up new response capacity.
The majority view is that governments should do what they are capable of doing better than in the past. The CPP, having been in power in various forms since the late eighties alone or in collaboration with others such as FUNCINPEC in the past,  certainly has the expertise to do better.
The all wide encompassing government has become too cumbersome and centralized with overlapping and competing interests, inefficient and unresponsive to the emerging needs of the public.
Civil servants are poorly trained, sub-optimally utilized, badly motivated and ingrained with attitudes of indifference and inertia. It has been argued by development economists that effective government in developing countries was not only necessary due to abundant market failures but possibly even sufficient to achieve economic development.
Ambassador Sothirak said:”In my opinion, deep, sweeping reforms should have been undertaken a long time ago, not just now. Those reforms were overdue, especially in the areas of freedom of expression, judiciary to make it impartial and neutral and more exertive in implementing and exercising the law, reforms to curb corruption if not eliminate it and also other wide ranging general reforms such as the electoral body, the NEC.”
Because of the lack of reforms in the past mandates and when there were efforts to undertake such reforms, they were either too slow, not well coordinated or not cohesive and coherent, it made the CPP suffer in the polls, losing significant support from its traditional power base – the rural areas and even in some of the urban areas said Ambassador Sothirak.
Dr. Chheang Vannarith, visiting lecturer at Leeds University and Senior Researcher at CICP said: “The entrenched vested interest is there within the  current and past administrations. So it is difficult, if not impossible to deliver concrete results. Prime Minister  Hun Sen alone cannot  do it even if there is political and personal will on his part. It is a structural constraint.”
On whether the CPP was hesitant to undertake reforms for a multitude of reasons, he said reform is the question of political will and structural need. 
“Factionalism within the ruling CPP is deep. Each family and group have their own power and financial base. It is hard to convince and integrate them in such a comprehensive reform. It may take a generation.”
When commenting on the continuing political impasse, and the CNRP’s flip flop with regard to the NEC, he said, “the opposition has to enter the council election race in order to mobilize and inspire confidence among its supporters. It needs to gain political ground first to challenge the power status-quo.”
“Politically and diplomatically, the opposition has gained certain points from pressuring for reforms to the National Election Committee. Both sides have shown intent to reform. What they are differing in is the mechanisms and the formula acceptable to both. There is no other institution, beside  the NEC, to deal with  election related issues and as such, like it or dislike it, the CNRP has to deal or refer to the NEC its grievances, such as ban on rallies etc.”
Dr. Vannarith also said that the time was not yet opportune for foreign mediation  to resolve the ongoing impasse. 
“It may take a few more months to see whether the two political parties with seats in the National Assembly  can resolve the political deadlock. Their differences  have narrowed to some extent. There are many countries who may be  interested in mediating the crisis in Cambodia but they are just waiting  for the call to come forward and mediate,” the lecturer said.
He added that the continued inflow of Official  Development Assistance (ODA) from bilateral and multilateral partners as well as agencies are aimed more at poverty reduction and humanitarian assistance. ‘
“The donors have to work closely with the government in order to implement their development projects. They have their own interest as well. As long as their development projects get successfully implemented, then that is their success and the political side effects of it would be largely overlooked or side-stepped”. 

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