Prime Minister Hun Sen signed off on a directive last week to transfer 11 government bodies, previously overseen by Cabinet Minister Sok An, to relevant ministries and institutions, further cutting the expansive portfolio of the deputy prime minister in the wake of July’s national election.
Previously under the purview of the Council of Ministers, which is controlled by Mr. An, the 11 bodies will remain intact but become part of related ministries, according to a copy of the directive received Friday.
Among the 11, the Royal Academy for Judicial Professions will now be overseen by the Ministry of Justice. The Royal School of Administration will be controlled by the Ministry of Public Functions. The National Information Communications Technology Development Authority will be absorbed by the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications.
“But taking away Sok An’s octopus arms won’t make any difference unless there is a check and balance system in which government officials are held accountable by the opposition party and civil society,”
The Accreditation Committee of Cambodia, the government’s higher education regulator, will be integrated into the Ministry of Education. The National Committee for One Village One Product, which promotes locally made goods, will be part of the Council for Agriculture and Rural Development.
The National Committee for Population and Development, a partner of the U.N. Population Fund in Cambodia, will become part of the Ministry of Planning. The Cambodian Bar Association’s budget for providing legal aid to poor defendants will be handled by the Ministry of Justice. The conservation committee for Mekong River dolphins will be overseen by the Ministry of Agriculture.
The structural changes outlined in Mr. Hun Sen’s directive are the latest cuts to the vast portfolio of state institutions controlled by Mr. An. The unprecedented changes follow July’s national election that revealed a nationwide wave of discontent toward the performance of the long-ruling CPP.
In his first speech to his new Cabinet on September 25, Mr. Hun Sen announced that a number of government bodies under the control of Mr. An would be dissolved, including the powerful Supreme Council on State Reform. Furthermore, a number of CPP lawmakers from Takeo province, where Mr. An is in charge of the CPP’s provincial working group, lost their positions as ministers of agriculture, environment and posts and telecommunications.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said that the decision to shift oversight of the 11 state bodies from Mr. An was made in order to decentralize the levers of power within the government, and that no jobs would be lost due to the decree.
“Deputy Prime Minister Sok An was responsible for all the work, but now he no longer has to be responsible,” Mr. Siphan said.
“We wanted ministers to take responsibility so the ministers will not be able to drop mistakes on each other if a problem occurs,” he said, adding that he did not believe that Mr. An was upset by the deep cuts to his power.
“I don’t think he [Mr. An] is unhappy with the reform because these are state affairs,” Mr. Siphan said.
“The government needs to be accountable and transparent and some ministries need to take responsibility because the government is now a single party,” he said.
Funcinpec, which faded away as the junior coalition partner to the CPP over the past decade, won no seats in parliament for this mandate. The opposition CNRP’s 55 elected lawmakers are boycotting the National Assembly until their demands for an investigation into the July election and an overhaul of the electoral system are met.
CNRP chief whip Son Chhay said that the decision to move more control to ministries, reducing Mr. An’s influence in the government, was a positive step, but offered no guarantees of actual reform in Mr. Hun Sen’s administration.
“I think it could do some good,” Mr. Chhay said, adding that Mr. An’s parallel authority to other ministers often created redundancies in the government and prevented any office from having to take responsibility for failures in policy implementation.
“The managing of many kinds of development was solely controlled by Sok An and other ministers could not take full responsibility, this caused problems that upset the public. That is why he [Mr. Hun Sen] is trying to fix it,” Mr. Chhay said.
“But taking away Sok An’s octopus arms won’t make any difference unless there is a check and balance system in which government officials are held accountable by the opposition party and civil society,” he added.