Situational Analysis DEA

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The government recognises that Cambodia still has a long way to go and numerous obstacles to overcome to achieve long-term progress and prosperity. During the third mandate, 2003–08, the government adopted an economic policy that aimed to promote growth by opening to the free market, increasing foreign direct investment, promoting privatisation and joining the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The rapid changes during the last few years toward democracy and a free market economy have met both notable successes and worrying setbacks. The changes have brought new challenges for the country, the government and non-government organisations (NGOs), particularly in terms of the welfare of rural people, the very poor and the marginalised. Despite the efforts of the international and community and Cambodians, the democratic space is still narrow and social injustice is widespread.

The main factors affecting this are a legislative system flawed on every level, from the drafting of new legislation to its enforcement, and a lack of training and financial resources that leads to corruption and impunity. Some powerful officials and investors take the opportunity to increase their profits through illegal activities, cheating and exploiting the poor. As a result , rural communities suffer from declining natural resources, land grabbing and encroachment, human rights violations and poor access to public services such as health, education, agricultural development and local governance.

Presently, more than 70 percent of the Cambodian population of 13.8 million is engaged in subsistence farming. The recent decline of natural resources is a major problem for the livelihood of a community that relies on agriculture. The forest, which is the most important natural resource in Cambodia, is rapidly decreasing due to illegal and unsustainable logging. The loss of forest leads to the degradation of the environment and natural disasters such as droughts and floods, which in turn contribute to the destabilisation of the national economy. C ontinued large-scale commercial logging and fishing lot concessions will negatively affect rural livelihoods. T his poses a serious problem, since it could threaten future development.{mospagebreak}

Forest land use is an economic issue, because each land use decision for a forested area will have economic costs and benefits. As the market price of land increased and the demand for farm products increased, people started to seize forest land—logging, clearing and converting it to other uses, with a consequent loss of natural resources, environmental and watershed functions and biodiversity.

A proper evaluation should be made of all benefits and costs of each forest land use option. The lack of a forest management law and decrees will mean a continued decline of forest resources and threaten long-term development, so there should be widespread input to a forest law, which should be enacted as soon as possible.

Landlessness and land conflicts are still major issues throughout the country. The vast majority of the conflicts involve high-ranking military officers, police, investors and local authorities. The forms of land conflicts include massive land concessions by government and local authorities to private businesses, encroachment, cheating and forcing the poor to sell their land below the market price.

Landownership has often been unclear, and most landowners lack adequate formal documentation. Widespread land speculation in recent years has fuelled disputes and increased tensions between poor rural communities and wealthy speculators. Landownership certificates are not properly distributed, and enforcement of the land law is still poor. Problems of inhabitants being forced to relocate continue because of powerful officials or businessmen colluding with local authorities. In remote rural areas, the people’s rights are abused, and they do not know how to use their rights to protect natural resources. The lack of documents makes it easy for perpetrators to invade the land of the poor.

Human rights are a serious matter in Cambodia. Gender equity and equality are fundamental human rights issues that affect all of Cambodia society. The Rectangular Strategy of the government puts a “high priority on the enhancement of the role and social status of Cambodian women by focusing attention on the implementation of the gender strategy and laws, capacity building for women in all sectors, changing of social attitudes that discriminate against women, and ensuring the rights of women to actively and equally participate in nation building”. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs looks forward to working with line ministries, the private sector, civil society organisations, NGOs and donors to achieve the national goal of improving the status of women.

Research and analysis have revealed that poor law enforcement, few economic resources and strict culture still restrict Cambodian women’s access to public services such as health, education and information and create barriers to their full participation in decision making. Women are also the principal victims of domestic violence, trafficking, rape and other forms of violence that are not only a violation of their rights but also a barrier to their full participation in society and the economy.

There are several areas in which serious action is required to provide Cambodian women with respect and hope. There is an urgent need to expand existing education, law enforcement and counselling services in order to raise awareness and promote the key ethical and moral values of Cambodian society and the government.{mospagebreak}

Commune councils were elected in 2002 to create a local voice in governance and to improve public service delivery. While the commune elections were an important first step, further effort is needed to expand opportunities for citizens to influence and participate in governance. Progress has been made in developing a strategic framework for decentralisation and deconcentration reforms, involving civil society organisations in the provincial and municipal Commune Fund Accountability Working Groups and bodies which have been set up to ensure transparent, accountable and effective use of commune funds.

However, some important constraints on commune council functioning may affect civil society’s participation in local governance. Popular participation in commune administration is still relatively weak. Therefore, commune councillors must be more active in reaching out to citizens. The monitoring mechanism embodied in the commune councils’ planning and budget committee is weak, with only half of Cambodians being aware of the PBC members from their villages and only a third of councillors indicating that PBC members are performing their jobs well (Asia Foundation survey, May 2005).

Currently commune councils control very limited resources, severely limiting their options for improving services, have few powers from the central government and lack capacity.

Recently, the Ministry of the Interior issued Guideline to Support Commune Councils No. 010, requiring all missions of commune councillors to attend training or make visits, both inside and outside the country, to obtain advance permission from the provincial or municipal governor. This contradicts the principles of decentralisation and affects the efforts and plans of NGOs and other development agencies to support collaboration between commune councils and civil society organisations.

Therefore, efforts to clarify lines of responsibility, build capacity and bolster the understanding of rights can be highly effective in addressing community development issues and helping to transform governmental, civil society and community relations.

In coming years it will be very important for civil society organisations as well as DPA’s Development Education and Advocacy Unit to listen and respond to issues raised by people at all levels and link these issues to national debates and discussions. The strengthening of advocacy networks and coalitions among civil society groups, from grassroots to the national level, and capacity building are needed. The rapid growth of NGOs and the open environment in which they operate are distinct advantages for advocacy in Cambodia. The strengthening of advocacy is very important to DPA’s interventions to help poor and marginalised people to contribute to poverty reduction, equity, peace, justice and democracy.