The politics of decentralisation in Cambodia: the district level

2017-02-23T02:27:50Z (GMT) by Eng, Netra
Decentralisation has been implemented by the Cambodian government with international donor support. Western aid donors expected that decentralisation would contribute to good governance and democratisation in Cambodia. This thesis examines the actual outcomes of decentralisation, particularly at the district level, since the first election of local councils at commune level in 2002. Through extensive interviews with elected councillors, appointed local administrators, officials in central government ministries, and representatives of non-governmental organisations and aid donors, the research investigates the ways in which the decentralisation programme has been understood, designed and implemented by the government and the ruling party – the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). It also discusses the effects of decentralisation on future governance in Cambodia. Adopting a political economy approach to the study of decentralisation, the thesis argues that the donor-promoted decentralisation in Cambodia has been designed and implemented in a context where power has been successfully consolidated in the hands of the CPP and its informal patronage network within the bureaucracy, the armed forces and the private sector. Because of this, the decentralisation has helped keep the CPP in power and consequently has militated against the emergence of empowered and independent sub-national authorities operating according to rules-based governance. Thus, it has disappointed the goals envisaged by western donors. The CPP’s preferred mode of governance, combining predation and neo-patrimonialism, differs sharply from the Western aid donor prescriptions for good governance being promoted through decentralisation. In this context, the behaviour of local actors – local councils and the administration – who occupy the decentralised institutions, the authority and resources given to them, and the accountability relationships that are produced by elections and reform processes can best be understood as having been shaped by rather than challenging the pre-existing power hierarchy. Consequently, the thesis shows that there are unlikely to be democratic gains from decentralisation. The research further suggests that a significant shift of political and economic power from national level elites to local leaders closer to the people, necessary for decentralisation to achieve the goals intended by western donors, is not likely to occur. This state of affairs is expected to remain unchanged in the foreseeable future in spite of the CPP’s surprisingly poor performance in the July 2013 national election, when it won twenty-seven fewer seats in the National Assembly than in the 2008 election.