Tep Bopha Prasidh, a wealthy businesswoman and wife of Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh, has been anointed with the sought-after royal title of oknha.
According to an August edition of the Royal Gazette, King Norodom Sihamoni signed off on the new title on July 11.
Roughly translated as tycoon, oknha is a prestigious title dating back centuries that is usually bestowed on wealthy individuals with close ties to the government, and those who make sizeable contributions to the public coffers.
But it’s not always clear why the honorific is given, and reasons are rarely explained.
After being sentenced to two and a half years in prison and being freed while waiting for her appeal on a bribery conviction, Dy Proem, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s cousin, was given the coveted title in August.
A batch of Wikileaks cables released in 2011 revealing Cambodia’s top 10 tycoons indirectly refers to Cham Prasidh and his wife as one of Cambodia’s most well-connected power couples, right up there with Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife, Bun Rany.
Kem Ley, an independent political analyst, welcomed the appointment but warned that the government should look more broadly at someone’s profile before awarding the coveted title.
He added that the granting of oknha or nak oknha occurs after a person has given more than $100,000 to the government for infrastructure projects.
“If we just look at their money it is not enough, we should look at their morals also – whether they have had any problem’s in society or corruption,” he said, calling for a committee to be established to help award the title.
“It’s not just about the money,” Ley said, rattling off a list of non-business community Cambodians who would make for good candidates: slain union leader Chea Vichea; journalist and political activist Mam Sonando; and murdered environmental activist Chut Wutty.
“I think they can get this title, but we don’t look at them,” he said.
The title can play an important role by creating role models and setting the tone for the young generation, Ley said.
“The big issue in our society is what we call the conflict of interest when a powerful person is in the government and their wife gets a high position in the society or in business.”