Australia Awards – Cambodia

Mr Youk Bunna, Secretary of State, Ministry of Civil Service
Updated: October 2014

Vision for improving public services in Cambodia

Secretary of State for the Ministry of Civil Service Mr. Youk Bunna, who completed his Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) in 2005 at Monash University, has a vision for an improved public service sector in Cambodia.

The Ministry of Civil Service of Cambodia is the policy implementing arm of the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC), and the Ministry of Civil Service recently outlined three core strategies for administrative reform in the country:

  • strengthening the quality and delivery of public services;
  • strengthening the management and development of human resources; and
  • further reforming the compensation regime of civil servants.

Born in Kampong Cham province, a fertile and busy centre for trade and transportation, alongside the Mekong River, and around 120 kilometres north of Phnom Penh, Mr. Youk Bunna completed his primary and secondary schooling in Kampong Cham.

Growing up in Kampong Cham Province, he was part of a large family – with three sisters and a brother. His father, a civil servant himself, and his mother, a small businessperson, encouraged all of their children to study and work hard at school.

“I always liked mathematics and literature in Primary School”, Mr. Youk Bunna explained.

“I seemed to be good at problem solving, so perhaps that set the pattern for my later studies.”

After graduating from secondary school, he had the opportunity to enrol at the Institute for Foreign Languages, or to study law at the Royal University of Law and Economics (RULE) in Phnom Penh.

Although a difficult decision, he chose to study Law at RULE, as he felt it would offer him greater career opportunities in the future.

He then won an overseas scholarship to complete his degree – in Law and Public Administration at Lyon, and after three years in France, returned to his old university as a lecturer, while also working as an assistant to the Secretary-General of the Cambodian Investment Board.

“But I felt that I needed to extend my economic skills, and although I learned a lot about European and French law in Lyon, I also wanted to gain experience in ‘anglo-saxon’ based law – so study in Australia seemed to me to be the best option to gain that expertise.”

“And at the same time, it would give me the opportunity to improve my English skills.”

Travelling to Australia in early-2004, his wife soon gave birth in Melbourne to their second child, a daughter.

“I was very happy in Australia”, he explained, “and I was very impressed with the way Australia delivered its services to the public.”

“People were very friendly and we were living in a very multicultural community in Melbourne; and although I was busy with my Masters studies, my wife had many opportunities to go to English classes, and to volunteer at the local Community Centre”.

Mr. Youk Bunna advises potential Australia Award scholarship applicants to prepare carefully if they want to get the maximum benefit from their studies.

“Firstly, you need to determine your objective for the future; secondly, have a thorough assessment of what you are doing right now.”

“Then choose a university and a course that will help you achieve your vision – but make sure it is line with your capacity.”

According to Mr. Youk Bunna, some Australia Award applicants chose a course and institution for all the wrong reasons - such as where their friends are, or choosing a city simply because they have heard a lot about it in the media.

“It cannot be just a dream… Building your capacity will not happen in just a year or two; it takes time.”

In planning his own Australian Award studies, he clearly identified his own knowledge and expertise gaps, and realised that he had to build his capacity in management and administration.

That self-awareness convinced him of the need to undertake thorough research about relevant courses in Australian universities.

Now that he has achieved most of his personal goals, he wants to implement the Cambodian Government’s vision for the public service.

“Now that I have a responsible part of public administration reform, I want to contribute my efforts to improving government services to the people of Cambodia.”

“I want to see our country catch up with others in the region, and to implement reforms that I saw had worked well in developed countries such as France and Australia.”

“But,” he added, “We have to start right now.”