Working to strengthen its local administration, Cambodia looks to Indonesia for model

Phnom Penh, Cambodia – Returning from a recent official visit to Indonesia, Mr. Dy Sophan, director of Department of Political Affairs, Ministry of Interior, only hoped that one day Cambodia will have a local administration structure that is strong in its role to deliver services and be more accountable to its constituents. In Indonesia, he said, the local authorities are able to perform their duties effectively because of the establishment of Local Government Associations (LGA).

“The LGA in Indonesia has played a key role on behalf of local governments and local councils in strengthening of upward and downward accountability and negotiating with the central government for political power and functional delegation. This is a lesson learnt for us,” said Mr. Sophan.


  • The NLCS plays a similar role representing all 1,621 communes and sangkats and is considered a crucial venue for engaging in policy dialogue with the central government on issues important to local residents.

He was among a Cambodian delegation who attended a one-week study tour to Indonesia in September 2011.

The Cambodian delegation included high level officials from the Ministry of Interior and the sub-national administration association known as the National League of Commune/Sangkat (NLCS). The visit, facilitated and sponsored by UNDP offices in Cambodia and Indonesia, was part of the South-South cooperation for Cambodian officials to exchange experiences with their Indonesian counterparts on democratic reform of public administration at the sub-national level.

“The trip gave us great opportunity to learn practical experiences and lessons about the establishment of LGAs in different tiers of local governments [in Indonesia] and their key roles and functions. In general, the Indonesian experiences are quite similar in nature to our context and trends,” said Mr. Say Kosal, president of Cambodia’s NLCS.

During their visit, members of the Cambodian delegation met with officials from Indonesia’s Ministry of Home Affairs, National Development Planning Agency, local government offices and local parliaments to learn about the evolution of decentralization reform in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

Indonesia has undergone rapid political and administrative reform since the advent of democracy in 1998. The government has decentralized its governance structure to allocate decision-making power to local authorities. A main feature in this reform is the establishment of local governments through direct election at provincial, city and district levels, thus making them directly accountable to their constituents. Each level of the executive and local councils has its own association to promote local governance practices and advocate for the needs and interests of their citizens.

In Cambodia, the NLCS plays a similar role representing all 1,621 communes and sangkats. Founded in 2006, it is considered a crucial venue for engaging in policy dialogue with the central government on issues important to local residents.

“In terms of geographical and cultural complexities, the decentralisation process in Indonesia is now facing some challenges such as the lack of clarity on the mandates of provincial governments and the unclear lines of responsibility and accountability between local governments and local councils,” Mr. Dy Sophan noted.

Mr. Say Kosal, the president of the NLCS, made some important observations about the LGAs in Indonesia which he felt could be applied in the Cambodian context. He observed the following:

  • In Indonesia, there are six different types of associations for local governments and local councils at provincial, city and district levels due to different interests. The establishment of local council associations is closely related to federal and unified administration. In Cambodia, the NLCS, in future, will play a role in coordinating the creation of associations of other councils at capital, provincial, municipal and district levels.
  • In terms of financial sustainability, LGAs in Indonesia highly depend on their membership fees and earnings from the provision of required services to members but are less dependent on grants from development partners.

The schemes have been working quite well in Indonesia, Mr. Say Kosal said, adding that the NLCS “will consider these schemes to develop its financial sustainability strategy” in the future.

“The LGAs in Indonesia have managed to achieve their strategic objectives remarkably well, especially in financial sustainability, institutional development and partnership building. At the NLCS, we are very committed to transform our organization to a functional and professional local council association in Cambodia, but we also acknowledge that it is a time-consuming process,” Mr. Kosal said.