CNRP to Begin Commune Chief Training Ahead of $500K Promise

Source: The Cambodia Daily

Kem Monovithya, left, and Mu Sochua wave to supporters from an SUV during a campaign rally in May 2014. (Ben Woods/The Cambodia Daily)

The CNRP will begin training commune chiefs on financial management to prepare them to control $500,000 budgets, a redistribution of government funds the party promised should it win next year’s national election, CNRP Vice President Mu Sochua said on Wednesday.

The aggressive decentralization policy, which could cost at least 16 percent of the national budget, was a central plank in the opposition party’s campaign ahead of Sunday’s commune elections.

In an email, Ms. Sochua said training for all elected commune chiefs would begin this month using CNRP resources. National Assembly lawmakers and provincial working groups would also be trained to provide support at the commune level, she added.

The party has previously said that the program would be funded by shaving the budgets of national-level government ministries.

On Wednesday, Ms. Sochua added that a CNRP government would also boost state revenue.

“If we win in 2018…[the] national income could be increased with proper collection of taxes, revenues from casinos, Angkor Wat entrance fees, etc.,” she said.

The $500,000 per commune is a minimum and would be raised for communes with larger populations or financial needs, Ms. Sochua said, adding that every commune—regardless of the party affiliation of its chief—would receive the money.

If unofficial preliminary vote estimates hold, the CNRP policy would hand out $579 million to the CPP’s estimated 1,158 communes, compared to $241 million across 487 CNRP-led communes.

Speaking in Kandal province’s Sa’ang district on Wednesday, CNRP President Kem Sokha attempted to dispel rumors about the campaign promise, saying people cannot demand $500,000 from him, the CNRP or commune chiefs.

“If they want to demand half a million dollars, please vote for the CNRP in 2018 and then they will get a half-million for each commune,” he said during his first appearance after the local elections.

He added that he had heard rumors of ruling party authorities planning to intentionally ignore infrastructure repairs in CNRP-led communes to undercut faith in the opposition.

“But they confuse it,” he said. “Leaving them as is will make them lose more votes in the 2018 election.”

Soeung Saran, executive director of Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, a local NGO that works with the urban poor on development, said money would not be enough to fulfill the CNRP’s goals.

“The first step is that they have to build the capacity of local government,” he said. “If even very physical infrastructure like roads or canals are very hard for them to build, I don’t know what they can do above that.”

Political analyst Cham Bunthet said being transparent about how the program would be implemented was key to gaining the public’s trust.

“They should not just put numbers out like that. How do they get that done—they should discuss,” he said. “They should pay more attention to that: How long will it take; how to achieve the policy.”

Chan Sokngeng, an elected CNRP chief for Siem Reap City’s Sala Kamroeuk commune, said the party would need to redistribute skilled staff across the provinces.

“When the CNRP wins in 2018, we will decentralize not just the budget but also human resources,” he said.

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