Do Cambodians Ignore Free Public Services?
Mar 25, 2021
Writer: Chhum Darika, 4th year student majoring in Global Affairs at The American University of Phnom Penh
Editor: Sao Phal Niseiy, Editor-in-Chief at The Cambodianess and Deputy Editor-in-Chief at Thmey Thmey News
(Photo Credit: "Cambodia Floods 2011." by EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)
If you are a Cambodian and reading this, please try to think of five public service deliveries in 10 seconds. If you could make it, you would be great. If not, the question in the headline might be valid for you.
Realistically, you are subject to the laws and regulations of a country where you were born, and you expect to fulfill your duties as a citizen, including paying taxes. By carrying out your tax obligation, in return, you anticipate getting free services or other resource distribution from the government to maintain your well-being and make your life more convenient. Those basic demands include, but are not limited to, healthcare, administrative and free education services for your children. When the government can respond to those demands, it is called public service delivery--an art of delivering government services to all.
However, when discussing public service deliveries in the Cambodian context, we tend to see an inequality in which not everyone can equally access the services. For instance, according to the World Bank survey in 2017, only 37% of the rural population can access sanitation when 44% of the people have access to clean water. The same report also indicated that much the same discrepancies exist in the education and health sectors. With this being said, we can understand that the government’s limited capacity to provide sufficient public services apparently is the most important factor, but it is time for us to look beyond this.
Theoretically, citizens are human capital and human resources for a country. They are a prominent driving force of economic development and one of the components of statehood. Under the social contract, the citizens are willing to give up some of their freedoms and resources to maximize the national security and the welfare of the people. Also, citizens of a country are like family members in a house; they will know about all available resources, such as free access to a bathroom, bedroom, kitchen, and other resources. Likewise, as a citizen, it is beneficial to know what kinds of public services your government is offering you. The government should provide people with those resources as a reward for us as a citizen. But why does the inequality remain in public service delivery?
I observe that the fundamental problem in our public service delivery is the lack of publicly available information, making the citizens unaware of the resources available, which, if properly used, can greatly contribute to promoting their standard of living. Additionally, a lack of knowledge about the available services has also affected their capability to obtain and use public resources. Speaking of this, who should get involved in this process?
Regarding public service delivery, the World Bank in 2017 pointed out three significant stakeholders--citizens, service providers, and policymakers--who have responsibilities to support the process. The Cambodian government unveiled three significant priority reforms, such as decentralization and deconcentration (D&D) reform, public administration reform (PAR), and public financial management (PFM) reform to enhance public service delivery. These terms have been further explained in detail by Transparency International Cambodia (TIC) under its project to raise awareness of public services known as the “Public Sector Engagement and Coalition Building Programme”.
Taking this issue into consideration, I do not think that Cambodian people live without regard for free services offered, but insufficient knowledge of public services would be one of the reasons. Even though it is not obligatory for Cambodian people to know about available resources from public service, once they are well aware of the services, they can effectively seek assistance. For instance, when they want to get a birth certificate, they know whom they should approach, and what legal price they have to pay for. Having sufficient knowledge of public services delivery, I believe, will greatly contribute to fostering transparency in public information sharing and eliminating corruption.
Improving public service delivery
To improve public service delivery, I think the government, first and foremost, should increase the number of service providers to meet the needs of people. Regarding public service expansion, the government should have a budget plan to provide the sub-national level to enhance and increase service providers in the most needed areas. For instance, increasing the number of firefighters in populated regions to ensure public safety for all. Extending service providers at the sub-national level will significantly increase the productivity and reliability of government services.
Secondly, the government should decrease inequality and enhance transparency in public service delivery through information sharing with citizens. To maintain effectiveness and efficiency, the government should mull over TV spots on any well-known television networks to educate citizens about public service availability. On top of that, the government should develop a digital platform or an online application where citizens can check that public service delivery is available in their areas and submit their feedback and suggestions accordingly. Besides that, the government should consider running campaigns to notify people while the village chiefs gather their citizens per family member to join. They should also facilitate dialogues in which people can voice their concerns and needs. By doing this, I believe that it will foster public information-sharing regarding public service delivery.
Ultimately, the government should pay closer attention to the capacity of citizens and service providers. The government should guarantee that the service providers are well-trained and can effectively perform their roles and responsibilities satisfactorily. For example, suppose that they are a clerk. In that case, they should understand their role and responsibilities in providing administrative services to people and have the proper education on relevant administrative services. It means that the government should provide additional or short course training to all service providers to ensure that they perform their jobs well. Likewise, educating citizens about public service delivery is also a must. The government should consider including public service delivery as one of the social studies chapters in every grade level, starting from kindergarten to grade 12th, ensuring students know the importance of public service delivery, their rights and responsibilities, and especially how to seek those services.
These steps are vital to consider if the government aspires to improve the availability and accessibility of public service delivery to citizens and make their lives better.
*This blog is produced with the financial support from the European Union and The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency through Transparency International Cambodia and ActionAid Cambodia. Its contents do not reflect the views of any donors.