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Association of Secretaries General of Parliaments



MR OUM Sarith

Secretary General of the Senate of Cambodia


The rationale and background conducive to the establishment of the Parliamentary Institute of Cambodia and the strategic development of the Parliamentary Institute of Cambodia

Bern Session

October 2011

1. Introduction

1.1 The Parliamentary Institute of Cambodia (PIC)
The purpose of PIC is to become a centre of excellence in parliamentary development, supporting and enhancing the capacity and improving the performance of the Cambodian parliament.
The current governance context in Cambodia is of one of a strong executive branch and a much weaker parliament. While the executive has been continuously strengthened through among others, international assistance, the Parliament has remained weak due to continued limited political understanding of its value and utility and inadequate technical and financial support available for its development.
Both the National Assembly and Senate’s Strategic Framework and Action Plan for Capacity Building of the Cambodian Parliament (2007) and the Strategic Framework and Activity Plan for Capacity Strengthening of Cambodian Senate (2007-2018) outline the need for and intention to establish a parliamentary institute/centre to support the legislature.

1.1 Governance Development
The Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) is committed to a multi-party, participatory democratic system and views this as key to the attainment of the Cambodian Millennium Development Goals (CMDGs).
Since the first multi-party elections in 1993, there has been a gradual movement towards a society in which citizens participate more in matters of national importance and contribute in decision-making processes. Developments include:

  • The emergence of the communes as important decision-making mechanisms under the decentralisation and de-concentration reforms of the RGC;

  • Significant empowerment in the areas of gender, human rights and electoral reform;

  • The peaceful conduct of elections;

  • Movement towards a multi-party culture;

  • Increased general interest amongst citizens in political activities;

  • More positive attitudes towards principles of transparency and accountability;

  • The formation of civil society organizations which can influence democratic governance through stronger political awareness and monitoring of political and socio-economic trends.

Despite these achievements, there is need for considerable advancement in a number of essential areas:

  • The executive branch continues to dominate over other branches of the democratic system, including the Parliament. These branches remain weak, inexperienced and reticent in meeting their full mandates.

  • Overall awareness of democratic rights and responsibilities remains low among the population.

  • .

  • Weak public dialogue and demand for accountability by the media is a further constraint.

  • Better democratic political practices are emerging at local levels. The first commune council elections in 2003, and the subsequent elections of district and provincial councillors in 2009 have enabled the establishment of local democratic bodies, but public and civil society participation in decision-making remains limited. Problems include capacity constraints, fear of participation, limited institutional development, and insufficient access to information and resource scarcities.

Reducing poverty and meeting CMDG targets depends to a large degree on the ability of citizens and society to organize, voice their needs, increase pressure for policy change and monitor the government’s performance.

To summarize therefore, while progress has been made on the institutions and basic governance structures necessary for democratic development, there is a need for more clarity about the nature of democratic practices/behaviour and the institutions required which are suitable to the culture and state of socio-economic development in the country. Improved democratization processes have emerged, however this progress has yet to be fully translated into stronger and more broad-based development practices and has not resulted in a more equitable distribution of the benefits of growth to the whole population. Developments such as these can only be expected to emerge in an environment where there is an ever-increasing understanding of democratic practices and rights, and in which citizens are afforded the opportunity to voice their needs and opinions.
Support for further progress in Cambodia’s democratic development is essential to strengthen and evolve key democratic institutions, and their structures at national and sub-national levels. Most important is the way in which these bodies encompass wider public participation in decision making, and hold decision-makers and service providers accountable for their actions. Progress in the building of such an environment requires long-term, continuous and consistent commitment.
1.2 The Parliament
Oversight by strong democratic institutions, of which the parliament is key, helps governments to achieve higher efficiency, better governance and less corruption, and lower fiscal deficits. Parliamentary development is also important to ensure the balance of power between the branches of a democratic system – the Executive, Legislative and Judiciary, which enables the mechanism of checks and balances essential to sustainable economic growth and development.
The Parliament of Cambodia has made progress over the past decade in fulfilling its democratic mandate. The capacity of Parliament to review and adopt laws prepared by the Government has been enhanced; MPs and Senators are more responsive to the needs of their constituents; and the General Secretariats of both houses have made progress in developing professional support services to parliamentarians.
However, this progress is still at an early stage, and development of processes to increase institutional strength and effectiveness take considerable time and continuous effort. Sufficient time and resources are needed to consolidate these gains and to make progress in democratizing traditional customs and mindsets, to govern differently and more effectively and to improve performance.
Parliament needs to be given more political space to develop as a legitimate and effective bridge between citizens and the government, and as an institution that can contribute to the substance of government alongside its role in holding other elements of government to account.
Parliamentarians acknowledge that they need to further improve their capacity and capability to play their roles effectively. The increasing political will for Parliament to fully develop and play its constitutional role was recently evidenced by Senate leadership’s decision to undergo an internationally accepted self-evaluation process designed by the Inter-Parliamentary Union. This self-evaluation concluded that there was a need for extensive changes to working processes and working procedures. Amongst the main areas of endeavour and key issues identified were the following:
Improving the legislative function of parliamentarians:

Develop a sustainable mechanism that provides subject-matter expertise to the technical commissions and all parliamentarians, allowing them to provide input into laws and policies more effectively.

Improving the representation function of parliamentarians:

Further develop public consultation and outreach practices and strengthen the Department for Collective Territory and Regions of the Senate (DoCTR) and the Department of Provincial Constitutional Offices of the National Assembly (DoPCO) to help parliamentarians have a comprehensive understanding of issues facing Cambodian citizens and allow them to respond to these issues.

Improving the oversight function of parliamentarians:

Generate an expert hearing mechanism that permits the Parliament to oversee the actions of the government and the implementation of legislation in a constructive manner, and oversee the implementation of projects funded by donors and implemented by the executive.

Balancing gender participation:

Adopt an approach by which gender issues are more fully understood and integrated into government development, legislation and public budgets.

Based upon the findings of this self-evaluation, the Senate leadership requested that an agency be created to assist Parliament in addressing these important changes. Establishment of the Parliamentary Institute of Cambodia (PIC) is one of a direct response to this request.
1.3 Environment Supporting the Establishment of a Parliamentary Support Institution
A scan of the internal and external environments conducive to the establishment of the PIC emphasized the following points:
External Environment
Agreement of Need and Demonstration of Will

There is general agreement amongst all political parties and within the Parliament itself that there is a pressing need for a neutral body with the responsibility to support and increase the ability of parliament to develop and fulfill its democratic mandate.

Democratic Progress

While all concerned agree that a fully functioning parliamentary democracy will take many years to evolve, progress is discernible and there are increasing possibilities to make progress on several fronts. In particular, there is scope to support aspects of research and skills training to support parliamentarians in the performance of their functions relating to parliamentary oversight, consideration of legislation within parliamentary commissions and increasing civil society input into decision-making on national issues, such as the decentralization process.

Government Resources

The Government and Parliament have agreed to provide some of the support required for the establishment and operation of PIC.

Adherence to the Paris Principles

The Paris Principles on aid effectiveness have fostered a new development architecture that offers additional opportunities for the effective development of PIC. Parliament’s oversight mandate provides an institutional mechanism for implementing and overseeing measures consistent with the Paris Principles in terms of donor supported-programs and projects, such as:

  • Open development planning;

  • Increased governmental financial management capabilities;

  • Better monitoring and evaluation of development results;

  • Emphasis on human rights and reducing corruption.

Internal Environment
Government Approval

The government has formally approved the establishment of PIC as a non-governmental organization. This approval gives PIC the mandate to contribute to strengthen and support the Parliament in pursuing the specific objectives summarized above.

Governance and Management Structure

PIC now has a governing board, is constituting an advisory committee and is recruiting additional staff.

Corporate Operations and Culture

As a result of the successful 10-year operation of the Cambodia-Canada Legislative Support Project (CCLSP), PIC has inherited a strong corporate culture and functioning organizational structure. Although the establishment of a new parliamentary support institution will differ in both form and substance from CCLSP, the institutional lessons and basic organisational elements of CCLSP will nevertheless help to ensure that PIC functions effectively through its initial stages of operation.

Successful Delivery

PIC will inherit the legacy of CCLSP, which established a reputation for successful delivery of parliamentary support. In addition to an established record of partnership-building with the parliament, PIC will gain from the high-quality and tested capacity-building tools, techniques and programs produced under CCLSP, which it can improve and build upon. Furthermore, it will inherit a library of training manuals and other publications that contextualised for the Cambodian parliament, and readily available for use.

The external and internal environments have clearly laid a firm foundation for PIC’s operation, providing many strong reasons why the PIC should be established and which point towards its effective operation. However, the main stumbling block is that its continuity and sustainability will remain dependant on external donor support at this stage of its development.

2. The Strategic Development of the Parliamentary Institute Centre of Cambodia (PIC)

The purpose of PIC is to become a centre of parliamentary development, supporting and enhancing the capacity and improving the performance of the Cambodian Parliament. It will provide expertise, organize workshops, seminars and training, and assist in the development of management and procedural tools while incorporating best practice and lessons learned. All productions will be contextualised and produced in understandable language in accordance with the needs of the Parliament.

PIC has a strong precedent of success, being drawn from the experience of the 10-year Cambodia-Canada Legislative Support Project (CCLSP), funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). Essentially, the formation of this new Cambodian agency represents an important ‘sustainability outcome’ of CCLSP: the creation of a permanent independent body to continue support for parliamentary democracy in Cambodia.


The vision of PIC is to become a national leader and regional partner in democratic development, specializing in the strengthening of representative institutions and parliamentary leadership.
The mission of PIC is to assist legislatures in Cambodia and in the wider region in building their capacity as effective democratic institutions; promoting parliamentary credibility and accountability, and assisting legislators in realizing their potential for democratic leadership.
The core values of PIC are: credibility, accountability, participation, openness, integrity, non-discrimination and transparency.


A - Institutional Strategy:

In terms of institutional development, PIC represents the next step in evolving CCLSP into a permanent facility serving the capacity development, information and research needs of parliament, thus transforming a 10-year program (the CCLSP) into a sustained and essential component of democratic government in Cambodia.

Conceptually, PIC represents a common component of democratic governmental structures; a publicly financed, non-partisan agency, that remains independent from the civil service, judiciary and executive arms of government, yet meets the research, analysis and development needs of each of these.
It is very important to bear in mind that in the first five-year period the transition from programme to sustainable agency will be in its initial stage. The entire transformation process will take much longer, and can only progress in step with the evolution of democratic governance in the country. Furthermore, both the institutional and programming initiatives of PIC must be very carefully calibrated, balanced and managed so as to foster yet not exceed the rate at which the government is democratizing. This imperative, to progress step-by-step and with careful deliberation, necessitates the following strategies:
Engage all political parties

To be broadly effective, PIC must be, and be seen to be, politically neutral. It must engage and retain the support of all political parties. The development of political parties is important for a competitive democratic system to take root. This was a critical foundation and platform used by CCLSP to ensure program credibility, demonstrating that a non-partisan approach to parliamentary strengthening is crucial for success. Maintaining equity in strengthening parties across the political spectrum is essential in building mutual respect and the concept of ‘noble opposition’. It is key to reducing the levels of animosity, rancour and potentially violent radicalism that can occur in maturing parliaments.

Internally, build the capacity of the PIC to serve the needs of parliament

Although CCLSP provided the precedent for PIC, building PIC as a new institution represents a new challenge, and is a cultural and organizational evolution from the roots of CCLSP. During the initial years, the management and operational aspect of the agency must be continually assessed and adjusted to meet the changing issues and context for the Cambodian parliament.

An important part of the institution-building challenge will be assembling and training PIC staff. It has been argued that insufficient trained and experienced individuals are available in Cambodia. However, the hiring experience of CDRI has disproved this argument. If PIC can offer competitive compensation and benefits, it will be able to hire suitable and experienced professionals locally. However, upon hiring appropriate staff members, they must also be further trained/oriented/sensitized to work effectively on parliamentary-centred research, information gathering and analysis, as well as training processes suitable for the effective delivery of PIC’s parliamentary support programs.
B - Programming Strategies
Provide parliamentary staff training and capacity building.

This support component seeks to increasingly professionalize the work of the Parliament and its constituent bodies: elected and appointed members of members of parliament, secretariat staff, and commissions. In so doing, it ensures the foundation and structure - the expertise, research, information and procedures – upon which legislatures and their committees can deliberate and make informed decisions. It supports the most fundamental building blocks of parliament as an institution.

Reinforcing the parliamentary strengthening strategy will be courses, workshops, study missions, case studies, on-the-job mentoring/coaching and other hands-on methods. The aim is to produce a variety of learning experiences that will allow individuals and teams to increase their abilities, and applying these new capacities to real on-the-job situations. In addition, and importantly, new approaches will allow parliamentarians and secretariat staff to observe role models and best practices and create professional links and networks with other legislatures.
Align with Parliament’s priority areas.

As a service institution, PIC will be largely driven by Parliament’s legislative agenda and national priorities. However, as noted below, because of resource constraints and political considerations PIC must select from the numerous government priorities and focus carefully on certain issues of relevance, so as to build and maintain its credibility within the environment of Cambodia’s maturing parliamentary democracy.

Target key commissions and themes.

In this initial phase of development, PIC will be constrained not only by the political space available to deal with selected issues, but also the human and monetary resources available to create, build and maintain a strong agency.

To this end PIC will focus primarily on high priority and regulatory commissions of parliament; primarily those commissions involved with the budget, decentralization and de-concentration, poverty reduction strategies and government accountability and regulatory mechanisms. The focus on these commissions may change according to the needs of the parliament. Also, since opposition party members do not sit on the commissions, they will be actively invited/recruited to participate in PIC activities with targeted commissions.
Select the most effective entry points and approaches.

Initially, PIC cannot be expected to work on all mandated parliamentary functions. It must select those functions which the government sanctions, and which PIC management judges to be integral to the institution’s continued neutrality. It is also essential that PIC focus its resources on those activities that can assist parliamentary bodies with democratic development more broadly. Two important examples drawn from the experience of CCLSP are:

  • Decentralized Public Hearings - In terms of the work of the National Assembly and Senate sessions, it has been observed that there is little debate on legislation that is tabled by the Executive. Currently, legislation is ‘rubber-stamped’ by parliament. This is partially because of members’ reticence to publicly ‘engage’ the governing party due to the political context of the country. However, one of the most effective tools for soliciting opinion and discussing national issues, adding information and increasing understanding, is the holding of public hearings at local levels. In the regions, parliamentarians are accorded considerable respect. During these hearings, politicians of all demoninations meet with civil society representatives and the public. Hearings are held openly at the provincial and commune levels and all political parties pay attention to their results. If they are held in timely and well-organized manner, these hearings can inform commission and executive decision-making. Consequently, the hearings can provide input into legislation presented to the parliament for approval. Increased numbers of public hearings, held more widely and effectively are an important ‘entry point’ in which PIC will play a significant organizational role.

  • Open Expert Hearings - These are special formal sessions designed to review various sectoral, technical and management issues put before the commissions. During these hearings, specialists/experts are called to present their (sometimes varied and opposing) understanding and opinions on specific issues. They are open hearings and can be attended by governing and opposition party members. Since only governing party members sit on the commissions, Open Expert Hearings afford opposition parliamentarians and the public,the opportunity to become informed, and to form and express their positions on the key issues of the day. In addition to providing new information and perspectives, these meetings can be designed to inform the oversight functions of Parliament. PIC will play an important role in the organization and conduct of these hearings, in addition to recording and disseminating the results to interested parties. Again, owing to limited resources, PIC will focus attention on select priority commissions and the oversight themes/issues described above.

Both of these activities represent only incremental steps toward full parliamentary participation in the democratic process. However, during CCLSP it is claimed that they exerted influence on the improvement of economic planning, budgeting and accounting, the press and anti-corruption laws. As an established institution serving parliament, it is expected that PIC will further reinforce and improve on the effectiveness of these functions.

Employ a diverse team of experts/mentors.

PIC will tap into local, regional and international sources of expertise. Peer-to-peer learning will take place, for example through the use of former parliamentarians and senior parliamentary staff in program delivery.

Proactively identify and collaborate with local partners.

Local partnerships fostered under CCLSP, including those with civil society and international organizations, will be used to ensure the appropriateness of activities, to build a broad constituency of support for projects and the sustainability of results.

Coordinate with other related parliamentary development and governance projects.

To optimize linkages forged under CCLSP, efforts will be made to harmonize activities with new and traditional development partners, such as UNDP, to avoid duplication.

Promote knowledge sharing and dissemination.

In harmony with the objectives of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, PIC will seek out and utilize the resources/material/research performed by others and translate it into a form and language accessible to parliamentarians and parliamentary staff. PIC will also periodically convene forums to disseminate tools and best practices with the development and governance community of practice, sharing knowledge and experience gained in project implementation.

As noted earlier, PIC will program within three major categories of objectives. To:
a -Strengthen PIC Institutionally
Consolidate establishment of PIC with a governance structure that meets international standards.

This represents the primary objective of PIC in its first year of operation, alongside securing funding for its continued successful operation. In the longer term, attention will focus on transformation of PIC into an effective public institution. An evaluation close to the end of the fifth year will inform the Board’s decision whether to continue PIC as an NGO or establish a more formal and structural linkage with the Parliament.

Consolidate the programs developed and experience gained from 10 years of CCLSP

This includes the operational procedures, training formats and manuals, and the available cadre of trainers and trained personnel: the tangible results of CCLSP. However, it must be recognized that the goal of PIC is to build a functioning arm of parliament as a sustainable institution, while at the same time delivering the next stage (post-CCLSP) of effective parliamentary support.

Build regional linkages.

PIC will link to the community of practice in democratic and parliamentary development to share the Cambodian experiences of ways in which to improve the quality of governance and the performance of parliamentary institutions in the region.

Increase capacities to leverage resources and learning through global partnership building.

PIC aims to build on linkages established under CCLSP and increase its capacity to partner effectively with donors, other international organizations and legislatures so as to better leverage resources and learning, and to promote collaboration in democratic development programming.

Work towards financial sustainability.

PIC will work towards diversifying and stabilizing sources of funding, combining core funding with project/program funding. Funding and resources for workshops and conferences will be diversified and sustainable as PIC develops a reputation for high quality learning products and services. PIC will seek funding sources from a variety of donors committed to improving governance and democratic development in Asia.

Capture aid effectiveness principles.

It must be recognized that the establishment of the PIC and delivery of its programs will strongly adhere to the Paris Principles of Aid Effectiveness, including:

  • Promotion of increased and improved democratic governance.

  • Building Cambodian ownership of the country’s institutional development and reforms.

  • Creation of a sustainable local democratic institution.

  • Increasing the cohort of specialists trained and able to serve the county’s needs.

  • Increasing funding stability though diversifying and blending local and multi- donor sources.

  • Networking and harmonizing programs nationally, regionally and internationally in order to share knowledge and best practice.

b - Improve Legislation and Research
Promote legislative capacity building and development.

PIC will work to increase the capacity of Parliament to play its legislative, representative and oversight functions. PIC will both advocate for and act as a proponent of legislative capacity building and development and will contribute to building subject-matter research on issues identified by parliamentary leadership, disseminating findings through workshops and seminars with parliamentarians, parliamentary staff and other stakeholders to share knowledge and expertise.

Increase the capacity of research units of parliament.

In order to better support the Parliament, the capacity of parliamentary staff will be improved, through the mentoring of research staff and institutionalization of public consultation practices. Research is critical in helping MPs and Senators more fully understand legislation, policy and issues affecting the country. At the present time, international assistance supplies funds for research bodies that are primarily used by the Executive, but there are no such provisions for bodies used by the parliament. Training, mentoring and study missions will take place to enable research staff to prepare briefings on matters of importance to the Cambodian parliament, and prepare papers on upcoming bills before the Parliament.

c - Increase Outreach Representation and Oversight
Strengthen links between citizens and legislature.

There will be an emphasis on the creation of avenues for pluralistic and participatory citizen involvement in democratic decision-making, and the formulation and implementation of laws. Parliamentarians’ role in consultation with the public will be developed through public hearings, training and field visits, allowing parliamentarians to obtain information from citizens to help make decisions in the public interest, and to inform citizens about government action.

Ensure local ownership and develop local sources of expertise and link to available global expertise.

PIC will act as a bridging organization between the legislative branch of government and civil society, and will use and expand existing ties with local experts and organizations to deliver seminars, workshops and training on priority areas identified by the parliament. As noted earlier, the research staff working/training at the PIC will help build and sustain local ownership and capacity for democratic development.

Strengthen gender networks amongst parliamentarians and incorporate gender analysis into activities.

There will be an emphasis on a holistic approach to gender issues, not only focusing on certain target programs, but more strategically through the gender mainstreaming of activities, events and training. There will be an emphasis on encouraging the participation of women in legislative development and policy research.

PIC seeks to improve the parliamentary aspect of governance in Cambodia. To ensure credibility and buy-in, PIC will engage all political parties, pursuing a gender balance in all activities. It will collaborate with Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in order to strengthening links between civil society and the Parliament. In accordance with the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, promotion of knowledge sharing and exchange and strategic partnerships will be pursued with other democratic and good governance initiatives in Cambodia, as well as the Mekong Sub-Region.
Thank you for your attention.
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