|A view towards the city’s north from the roof of the Phnom Penh Tower. Hong Menea|
By Chhay Channyda, The Phnom Penh Post, 17 November 2013
In the midst of rapid urban population growth, Phnom Penh City Hall has applied to create as many as five new districts in the capital, a spokesman said yesterday.
“We plan to split some districts,” City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche told the Post, adding that the geographical boundaries of the city itself weren’t expanding. “We will do it before the May 2014 [council] elections.”
The plan, designed to improve governance and service delivery, had already been submitted in proposal form to government ministries, Dimanche said.
“We want people close to the public services that the authorities provide. If districts are large, they can’t serve the needs of the people. So we have to separate districts to better meet their needs,” he said.
“I do not know whether there will be three or five, but I have heard it is three.”
Sak Setha, secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior, said the government was reviewing City Hall’s submission, which would affect Meanchey, Russey Keo, Sen Sok, Por Sen Chey and Chamkarmon districts.
“We’re studying the possibility of creating three or four districts,” he said.
When asked whether the creation of new districts could result in the ruling Cambodian People’s Party strengthening its position before May’s election for district and provincial-city council members, Setha said it was possible but unlikely.
In a population survey released by the Ministry of Planning in August – halfway between the 2008 and 2018 censuses – it was revealed that 21.4 per cent of Cambodia’s population lives in cities.
That was an increase on the 19.4 per cent recorded in the 2008 census, when Cambodia’s overall population was some 10 per cent smaller.
In July, the Post reported that the allocation of National Assembly seats has not changed since before 1998, despite ballooning urbanisation. NGOs said this effectively lowered the worth of a vote in opposition strongholds such as Phnom Penh.
In 1998, the percentage of people living in urban areas was 15.7. The consensus conducted before that – way back in 1962 – found 10.3 per cent of the population living in cities.
Kem Ley, a social researcher and political analyst, said creating new districts was “not the right direction” for the government to take.
Instead, the government needed to be directly addressing issues that urban population growth gave rise to, such as traffic congestion, overcrowding and an unequal spread of infrastructure.
“If we learn from other countries … we should not just create new districts for people to occupy high positions,” he said.
Ley said the government should consider subsidising factories or institutions such as universities to relocate to the outskirts of Phnom Penh or, in some cases, provincial areas.
“This is in order to release the people and stop the traffic jams,” he said. “In [the future], there will be many more cars, people – if the government does not design a better plan, it will bring more stress to drivers.”
San Chey, founder of the NGO Affiliated Network for Social Accountability in East Asia and the Pacific (ANSA), said dividing up districts would be an expensive undertaking and it was time for the government at district and commune levels to be transparent about their budgets.
“If district officials are closer to people, but public services are still the same, it’s not good to be creating more districts,” he said. “We have seen the government order local authorities to post public [spending], but they don’t follow orders.”
In 2010, more than 20 communes were cut from Kandal province and incorporated into four Phnom Penh districts: Dangkor, Russey Keo, Meanchey and Sen Sok. Dangkor was later split in two, creating Por Sen Chey district.
District authorities said at the time that the creation of a new district was necessary because Dangkor was “too wide to govern”. Since the split, the Post has reported on a number of infrastructure issues that have been hampering villagers in Por Sen Chey district.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SHANE WORRELL