The Mirror, Vol. 14, No. 649
A problem faced by some powerful leaders is that they do not know what is really going on under their control – there is a layer of advisors and assistants who keep important information from reaching the top, or the arrangements for the activities of persons in high level leadership do not provide sufficient opportunities to see what happens on the ground.
Some years ago it the Prime Minister traveled by car on a major road of the country, over which he normally used to fly by helicopter – and it was then reported that he was surprised about the poor state of the maintenance of the road, ordered its repair as a priority, and decided to travel by car more frequently to see some of the reality which he cannot see from high up in the air.
Sometimes it is also questioned whether other important information is really reaching the Prime Minister, or whether it is filtered away by advisors and assistants.
In 2003, there was a embarrassing situation, when one of his nephews, Nim Sophea, was accused to be involved in a shooting affair, which left three people dead and four others injured. The nephew was arrested and convicted, but in an appeals process he was declared to be not guilty (the main culprit had fled and was never found – if I remember correctly). Around that time, the Prime Minister said that even his nephew would have to face the court – though, at that time, the media had already reported that Nim Sophea was already in China. This information had not reached the Prime Minister, so he did not know.
The Prime Minister’s speech on 28 January 2010, during the closing ceremony of a conference at the Ministry of Defense, is different: it shows that he knows very well what is going on. He did what was hardly ever heard before in public: he named several high ranking military leaders, present at the meeting – Sum Samnang, director-general of logistics and finance at the Ministry of Defence; Chao Phirun, director-general of materials and technical services; Ung Samkhan, commander of the Royal Navy; and Chhoeun Chanthan, chief of the senate president’s bodyguards – accusing them of corrupt actions: misusing their positions for their private business, using military equipment and personnel for personal gain, and wasting public property.
“Do not be commanders that are only good at wood trading, illegal logging, land grabbing, and illegal fishery.” – “The role of the military is to fulfill obligations for the nation, not to guard your mangroves, please check this again! Please do not use soldiers and military machinery to serve individual interests.” As five-star general and top military leader, the Prime Minister said that “from now on, military officials who are involved in illegal activities are not fit to work in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces.”
Such public frankness led to immediate words of welcome from Mr. Yim Sovann, the spokesperson of the Sam Rainsy Party, who noticed that these announcements for a new outlook into the future has an implication also for the past: “What I am happy about is that he acknowledged past misdeeds.”
Also Mr. Thun Saray, the president of the human rights organization ADHOC, called for these new steps of reform to be put swiftly into action, pointing to a problematic weak link between high level policy directives and their implementation: “His speech is very good, but we also ask for its real implementation … sometimes when we take his speech to lower levels for implementation, they do not listen.”
In spite of these special considerations, this is an extraordinary situation which does not happen easily: that the head of the government, the spokesperson of the largest opposition party, and a respected leader in civil society immediately agree.
The reports of this week contain again material as in the weeks before, on which the words of the Prime Minister can be applied: “It Is Time to Stop; Military Officials Who Do Illegal Activities Are Not Fit to Work in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces.”
We just repeat some pieces of information from the past week:
- Local Authorities in Ratanakiri Were Threatened to Be Killed by Soldiers Trading Wood [when they tried to block those soldiers transporting wood to Vietnam; finally the authorities could not seize the wood and could just report the case to higher levels]
- The Pursat Authorities Close Their Eyes, Not Seeing the Strong Logging Activities for Luxury Wood in the Forest
- The UN Envoy on Human Rights in Cambodia Assessed that the Government Showed Willingness to Strengthen Human Rights in Cambodia
- Intensive Wood Trading Continues at the Cambodian-Thai Border while the Border Disputes Remain Unsolved
The Prime Minister’s words were spoken in a specific context: referring to the reforms to happen in all sectors, including in the armed forces. That means, new procedures will have to be defined and applied. If this happens, the Prime Minister’s expectations may start to work: “It is time to end that some work in the military in order to use this as a shield to run their own businesses. If you wear ranking stars and cut trees, fellow soldiers will point at your face.”
Fellow soldiers did not do so in the past, because they could not expect that they would be supported at higher levels, as also some of the examples repeated above from the past week show. It will therefore be decisive to see what procedural changes will be established, and how their implementation will be monitored – by the public and the media – and enforced by the relevant institutions of the state.
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