Building Institutions in Cambodia: Connecting the Competent Individuals

By Heng Dyna

Yes, institutions matter. Prosperity depends less on culture or geography or rulers’ expertise but much more on “institutions”, i.e. property rights, economic freedom, equality before the law, and trusted enforcement of contracts. Markets cannot function well without institutions. And countries need institutions for long-term stability and effective policies.

But, in the case of Cambodia, most of the discussions so far end with “Cambodia needs to build effective institutions”. There has been no much discussion beyond that, i.e. how should Cambodia build its effective institutions? Which institutions first in the sequence? Given the demographic trend and generational transition in Cambodia’s leadership, Cambodia will need to find ways and then build effective institutions as soon and much as possible.

It may sound paradoxical, but this article argues that to graduate from individual-based system, we need start with competent individuals building institutions. Therefore, Cambodia needs to identify, connect, support, and empower those individuals to build their own institutions and create the momentum of institutional building process at national level.

A country needs effective institutions because it wants to promote justice, rule of law, sustainable growth and development, continuity and smooth transition, all of which are difficult to achieve when the country depends largely on certain individuals. But how do we graduate from there? In an attempt to find out how, I ask two questions: a. how have the other countries built their institutions?, and b. Has Cambodia ever built a good institution so far? What are the lessons?

For the second question, I ask further: Which institutions and at what level? Who has tried to do what? Have he/she failed or succeeded? Can we learn from our past? The questions led me to a Cambodian individual who has been successful in building an institution in a complex political environment. That is Mr. Ek Sonn Chan, the former Director General of Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority (PPWSA). This article attempts to draw attention to his example and provoke the discussions on why and how his success can be multiplied and his strategies in addressing incentives and management issues can be applied in other institutions. And if not, why not.

The success story of Ek Sonn Chan can serve as a good example of how a competent individual can contribute to institution building, at least at local level. Even with resistance to institutional reforms and with gun pointing at his head by military generals in some occasions, he has proved that institution building can be made by leveraging his capability, courage, and external support. His practical approach and success are highlighted in Princeton University’s “Innovation for successful Society”

After the UN-organized election in 1993, PPWSA was one of the very difficult and corrupt public institutions. PPWSA faced many challenges ranging from the bill-collection problem, which was related to the performance of the collector, the fact that powerful people refused to pay their water bills, and the inefficiency of the water supply system. Despite constraints and resistance of vested interest groups, Mr. Chan was able to implement several reforms to provide the clean and safe water supply in Phnom Penh, leveraging financial assistance and expertise from the international community to create incentives and effective rules. Today, PPWSA is one of the most efficient operating water authorities in the world. It is well respected and valued by the people, the governments, and the donor community for its achievement. This story is a vivid illustration of how an individual (local talent) build an effective institution. It is this story that shapes my thought that Cambodia needs to identify, connect, and support these individuals. Together, these individual can create the national momentum to build institutions. Although it will take time and the speed of institutional building will also depend on the political support, it is possible.

Within the complexity of political system and incentives issue, it may be hard to think of ways to build institutions. However, Mr. Chan’s case should give us some confidence and hints on how we should move forward in our institutional building process. In that regards, our discussion needs to dig deeper on how to address the incentives and capable individual problem, and limited quality of institutions. Indeed, these issues should be viewed as circular or intertwined.

It is a big loss for Cambodia if we (Government, private sector, and Cambodian people) do not find, connect, and support these competent individuals. It is one of the reasons why CEA has been building platform to connect people across institutions and generations. If we can connect and support competent individuals to succeed, we can expect not only formal institution building, but also a more informal institutional building such as expanded social network building and other cultural and social transformation.

Again, please read this interview and share your thought. For technical discussion on building institutions, see the World Development Report 2002 “Building Institutions for Markets: Innovate, Connect, and Compete”.

Posted in Governance, Individual Opinions | Leave a comment

A Bird’s Eye View on Cambodia: Education Quality and Conflict risks

By Heng Dyna

Cambodia should not view the recent exam fiasco as a separate issue from the political uncertainty and risks in the country. They are the two dots Cambodia needs to connect. Education plays very important role in reducing the risks of a country falling into conflict and unrest. The risk Cambodia is seriously facing now is the friction between military and youth.

In average, as presented in the book “the Bottom Billion” by Paul Collier at Oxford University, it takes between 15 to 30 years for a country to graduate from a fragile status. If this statistics is right, then counting from 1998, Cambodia may still have another ten years to be out of the hazardous range. In other words, it needs to have two more stable terms to lay out the very conditions to rule out the disastrous down side risks.

However, how fast and far a country can graduate from fragile status depends on the speed of improving education and building institutions. Indeed, a relatively high proportion of young, uneducated men in a country increase the risks of conflicts and unrest. They can be easily manipulated or dragged into uncontrollable violence. Had we make much more progress in education quality over the last 15 years, the risk would have been lower. Therefore, the first and foremost task for Cambodia is to get their population, especially youth, a quality basic education as soon and as much as possible.

The question of transformation in Cambodia is a question of education, institution, and leadership. We must be very intentional about how we train our citizen and future leaders with ethics and responsibility. We have to train leaders of exceptional integrity,who have the ability to confront complex problems, ask the right questions, and come up with workable solutions. Leaders should also have a strong sense and capability in risk management, i.e. concerning about the potential worse outcome for the country and thus identifying the direction they should move.

I am talking not about just political leaders we’ve heard a lot about, but also about the professionals who are trained and assigned to be the guardians of our society -lawyers, judges, policemen, teachers, engineers, doctors, and civil servants.

By improving its education quality, Cambodia can move on to build effective institutions and effective public services, needed to be in place to ensure a country’s long-term stability. I believe that if we involve Cambodian students in good education, if we have them discuss the real issues that they confront and if we give them skills that enable them to engage the real world, their potentials can be unleashed. And when Cambodia has many capable youth, the probability of having a very good leader becomes higher while that of instability also decreases. As argued in the book “Why nations fail” by two MIT economists, political stability without inclusive‟ institutions such as good education system may enable an economy to grow at limited extent, but will not permit the full ascent to modern prosperity.

To predict a country’s future, ones should observe its students and youth. Now, the winds of generational change appear to be blowing already. But the wind direction and Cambodia’s long-term development will depend on how its young population succeeds in possessing quality education and social engagement in the productive and innovative ways.

Posted in Health & Education, Individual Opinions | Leave a comment


ដោយ វង្ស សុជាតា

អត្ថបទនេះត្រូវបានចេញផ្សាយនៅក្នុងកាសែត  Phnom Penh Post  នៅថ្ងៃទី២៣ ខែកក្កដា ឆ្នាំ២០១៣

កាលពីថ្ងៃ សុក្រ ទី ១៩ ខែកក្កដា ឆ្នាំ២០១៣ អស់រយៈពេលជិតពីរម៉ោងនាពេលថ្ងៃត្រង់ ខ្ញុំបាន ឃើញដោយផ្ទាល់ភែ្នកនូវព្រឹត្តិការណ៍ដ៏ធំមួយជាលើកដំបូង គឺភាពសកម្មរបស់យុវជនខែ្មរ ក្នុងការចូលរួមក្នុងដំណើរការនយោបាយ។ មានប្រជាជនរាប់ម៉ឺននាក់ ដែលភាគច្រើនជា យុវជនប្រុស-ស្រី បានចូលរួមដងែ្ហការ វិលត្រឡប់មកប្រទេសកម្ពុជាវិញរបស់មេដឹកនាំ គណបក្សប្រឆាំង លោក សម រង្ស៊ី ក្រោយពីលោកបាននិរទេសខ្លួនពីប្រទេសកម្ពុជា អស់រយៈពេល ជិតបួនឆ្នាំ ដោយសារហេតុផលដែលលោកនិយាយថាជារឿងនយោបាយ។

ក្បូនដងែ្ហអ្នកគាំទ្រលោក សម រង្ស៊ី បានឈរយ៉ាងកកកុញ ចាប់ពីព្រលានយន្តហោះ រហូតតាម ដងផ្លូវសហព័ន្ធរុស្សី ឆ្ពោះទៅកាន់សួនប្រជាធិបតេយ្យ។ ក្នុងអំឡុងពេលនោះ មិនមែនមានតែ ក្បួនយុវជនគាំទ្រគណបក្សសង្គ្រោះជាតិរបស់លោក សម រង្ស៊ី នោះទេ ក្បួនយុវជនគាំទ្រគណបក្សប្រជាជន របស់លោកនាយករដ្ឋមន្រ្តី ហ៊ុន សែន ក៏មានវត្តមានដែរ ដែលបានធ្វើដំណើរ ពីទិសខាងត្បូងឆ្ពោះមកកាន់វត្តភ្នំ។ ខ្ញុំបានឃើញក្បួនដង្ហែយ៉ាងធំរបស់ យុវជនគាំទ្រគណបក្ស ប្រជាជន ជួបប្រទះគ្នាជាមួយក្បួនយ៉ាងធំរបស់យុវជនគណបក្សសង្គ្រោះជាតិ នៅម្តុំមន្ទីរពេទ្យ ព្រះអង្គឌួង ដែលមានការស្រែកហ៊ោ យ៉ាងខ្លាំងពីក្បួនទាំងពីរក្រុម។

ការស្រែកហ៊ោយ៉ាងខ្លាំងនោះបានធ្វើឲ្យប្រជាជនជាច្រើន ដែលឈរនៅទីនោះ រួមទាំងខ្ញុំផង មានការព្រួយបារម្ភយ៉ាងខ្លាំងថា អាចនឹងមានការប៉ះទង្គិចគ្នា។ ប៉ុន្តែជាកុសលល្អណាស់ ដែលពុំមានការប៉ះទង្គិចគ្នានោះទេ ហើយក្បួនរបស់គណបក្សប្រជាជនក៏បានបន្ត ធ្វើដំណើរឆ្ពោះទៅប៉ែកខាងលិចវត្តភ្នំ។ ហេតុការណ៍នេះ បានធ្វើឲ្យខ្ញុំមានក្តីរំភើប និងកោតសរសើរ ដល់យុវជនគាំទ្រគណបក្សទាំងពីរ។ ខ្ញុំសងេ្កតឃើញថាការបោះឆ្នោតនៅក្នុងប្រទេសកម្ពុជា លើកនេះគឺមានភាពខុសគ្នាពីការបោះឆ្នោតលើកមុនៗ ដោយសារថា មានយុវជនជាច្រើនបានចូលរួមក្នុងដំណើរការនយោបាយ តាមរយៈការគាំទ្រគណបក្ស ទាំងអស់ដែលនឹងប្រកួតនៅថៃ្ងទី២៨ ខែកក្កដា ខាងមុខនេះ។ ទោះជាមានការរាយការណ៍ថា មានអំពើហិង្សាមួយចំនួនតូចនៅក្នុងអំឡុងពេលឃោសនា បោះឆ្នោតក៏ដោយ ក៏ស្ថានភាពជាទូទៅមានលក្ខណៈល្អប្រសើរ។ មានការរាយការណ៍ថា មានការជួបប្រទះគ្នារវាងក្បួនយុវជនរបស់គណបក្ស ធំៗទាំងពីរនៅតាមខេត្ត ប៉ុន្តែពុំមាន ការប៉ះទង្គិចគ្នាជាលក្ខណៈហិង្សានោះទេ។ យុទ្ធនាការសន្តិភាពបែបនេះ កំពុងកើតមាននៅ ទូទាំងប្រទេស។ ការបោះឆ្នោតលើកនេះ ជាព្រឹត្តិការណ៍ប្រវត្តិសាស្រ្តលើកដំបូងបំផុតដែលមាន ការចូលរួមយ៉ាងច្រើនពីយុវជនកម្ពុជា។ បើប្រៀបធៀបកាលពីប៉ុន្មានឆ្នាំមុនៗ ជាពិសេសកាល ពីការបោះឆ្នោត ឆ្នាំ២០០៨ យុវជនកម្ពុជាជាច្រើន មិនបានចាប់អារម្មណ៍នឹងនយោបាយ និងការបោះឆ្នោតនោះទេ។

លើកនេះមានយុវជនប្រុសស្រីជាច្រើន មានសេចក្តីក្លាហាន ក្នុងការបង្ហាញជាចំហពីការគាំទ្រ គណបក្សដែលពួកគេស្រឡាញ់។ ទោះជាមិនទាន់មានតួលេខ ពីចំនួនពិតប្រាកដរបស់យុវជន ដែលចូលរួមក្នុងការបោះឆ្នោតក៏ដោយក៏មានរបាយការណ៍ជាច្រើនបានបង្ហាញឲ្យឃើញពីយុវជននៅតាមខេត្ត-ក្រុង កំពុង ចូលរួមយ៉ាងសកម្ម។ មានខ្លឹមសារខ្លីៗដែលយុវជនរបស់គណបក្សធំៗបានផ្សព្វផ្សាយទូទាំងខេត្ត-ក្រុង។

ក្នុងចំណោមអ្នកចុះឈ្មោះបោះឆ្នោតចំនួន ៩,៥ លាននាក់ មានយុវជនដែលមានអាយុពី១៨ដល់ ៣០ ឆ្នាំមានចំនួន ៣,៥ លាននាក់ ដែលក្នុងនោះមាន ១,៥ លាននាក់ជាអ្នកបោះឆ្នោតលើកទី១។ នៅសល់រយៈពេលមិនដល់មួយសបា្តហ៍ទៀតទេ ដែលប្រទេសកម្ពុជាត្រៀមនឹងមានការ បោះឆ្នោតសភានីតិកាលទី៥។ ខ្ញុំពិតជាសង្ឈឹមថា យុវជនកម្ពុជានឹងបន្តប្រកាន់ខ្ជាប់នូវវប្បធម៌ អហិង្សានិងភាពអត់ធ្មត់ ទោះជាពួកគេគាំទ្រគណបក្សនយោបាយណាមួយក៏ដោយ។ ខ្ញុំសង្ឃឹមថា ភាពសកម្មរបស់យុវជនកម្ពុជា នឹងជំរុញលើកទឹកចិត្តដល់យុវជននៅកម្ពុជាទាំងអស់ដែលមាន ឈ្មោះបោះឆ្នោត នឹងសម្រេចចិត្តទៅបោះឆ្នោតនៅថៃ្ង ២៨ ខែកក្កដា ខាងមុខនេះ៕

វង្ស សុជាតា

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A Suggestion for National Unity and Development

By Chan Sophal

A Khmer version of this article was published in the Phnom Penh Post on July 19, 2013

I’m really pleased by what I consider a win-win solution taken by the opposition and ruling leaders of Cambodia. It reflects the spirit of national reconciliation once again and demonstrates wisdom of both sides.

I believe as a small and poor country having limited capacity left from the killing fields, Cambodia would be best united in her endeavour to accelerate development. Instead of being fragmented and deeply divided, the scarce Cambodian talents should be united and work together to tackle the difficult reforms for faster and sustainable development for everyone.

I’m sure that CPP will win the election on 28 July 2013 and can easily form a government on its own and carry on with “business as usual”. However, there will be immense challenges for CPP alone to meet in the future. Unless it changes the current way of governance, for various reasons I think CPP will likely see a declining trend of its parliament seats. I’m sure there is another way for CPP to retain or even gain more popularity other than the current approach of doing politics.

Basically, Cambodian voters at this stage are generally to be satisfied with security and availability of roads, canals, clean water, electricity, schools, health services, etc. Ensuring delivery of these should be the role of government, not so much of party officials. Government needs more funding and well-paid civil servants to deliver such infrastructure and public services. Therefore, key is to ensure sound revenue collection and budget management.

Moving forwards, the top priority should be the transformation of informal payments to formal ones. For this critical transformation to succeed, businesses, especially the big ones, have to stop paying informal taxes. Should CPP find it too difficult to carry out this huge reform for some reason, it can use the assistance of CNRP to help. Thus, a coalition government would probably be not a bad idea.

However, both sides would have to agree on a reform agenda first in order not to be co-opted and corrupted. Such an agenda should include building independent and competent courts and military, and allowing independent media, academia and research institutions in order to have an effective system of check and balance, which is the backbone for sustainable development.

If these tremendous reforms are carried out by all the committed patriots, there will be great optimism for Cambodia to become a real dragon in the region, which many leaders in the past attempted but failed. A priceless by-product of pursing what is best for national interest would be genuine national unity, healing and solidarity in the nation. Now Cambodia has enough popular and powerful personalities and sooner than later they should start becoming heroic statesmen, building and strengthening institutions for a long journey to achieve a developed country status by 2050.

After many centuries of declining trend and decades of man-made sufferings, Cambodia and Cambodians now deserve such a new era. The choice is in the hands of the current leaders, which I believe are very capable. May we embrace a fantastic dream and realise it.

Chan Sophal
Former President of the Cambodian Economic Association
Disclaimer: The views do not represent any other than his own.

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Cambodia should focus on inclusive growth, not just growth

By Heng Dyna

A Khmer version of this article was published in the Phnom Penh Post on May 17, 2013

The article “IMF: How to grow Cambodia” is optimistic and motivating, sharing lessons on how Cambodia can sustain its growth take-off. It also reflects the commitment of an effective IMF team to institutional building and economic growth in Cambodia. Indeed, never before has Cambodians lived in such an exciting moment: long period of political and macroeconomic stability, robust economic growth, located and integrated in the dynamic region, evolving institutions, and hopeful young population.

However, this optimism should not overlook the major challenges and risks that we, the Cambodians, need to address in order to avoid disruption of Cambodia’s growth and development. At the same time, Growth has to translate into poverty reduction and job creation. In this regards, Cambodia should focus on the inclusiveness of growth, rather than just growth. Many studies, including those from the IMF, have demonstrated that more inclusive growth is likely to be more durable growth.

Development experience have shown that sustainable and inclusive growth is based on three key areas: (i) creating the right climate for investment and growth; (ii) investing in people; and (iii) ensuring that growth is sustainable and inclusive by protecting the environment. The first point was mentioned in the “IMF: how to grow Cambodia” article.

Investing in people means that, as soon and as fast as possible, Cambodia needs to improve health and skills of population so that they can be more productive and gain more from the production chain. So far, our growth has been largely driven by physical capital investment and “peace dividend”. Investing in our people will require not only additional budget for education and health care, but also the efficiency in our spending as well as leveraging our media in skills training and health awareness.

The environment affects everything- the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe. Gradually, we observe that environmental issues put pressures on economic and health issues. Yes, Cambodia needs growth, but it also needs a greener growth that respects a healthy livelihood and environmental sustainability. That means Cambodia needs a good planning for quality urbanization and environmental-friendly economic expansion.

Apart from these three key areas, Cambodia also needs to reduce institutional risks by ensuring the stability and the quality transition of governance-from weak to strong; from old to young- through institutional building. The baton is being passed to the younger generation now and we need to ensure that our capable and talented younger generation can engage in leadership and public services based on meritocracy.

Cambodia’s dream belongs to all Cambodians. And the transitioning from a developing to an emerging market economy is more than just about number. It needs inclusive growth and better quality of life. Growth is just a means to our ultimate goal, a happy and prosperous society with dignity. To reach there, our institutional capacity and good public service delivery, especially in education and health, needs to be in place. The rapid growth over the last decade should give us enough confidence to think and do so.

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