Paul Blanche-Horgan, the CEO of internet service provider Ezecom, will now be known as Oknha Paul Blanche-Horgan, making him one of the few Westerners to receive the prestigious and sought-after Cambodian title.
Awarded by King Norodom Sihanomi in mid-November, the new status brings Blanche-Horgan, who has lived in Cambodia for more than a decade, into the company of some of Cambodia’s most powerful tycoons and politically connected personalities.
He confirmed his appointment in an interview on Saturday, and said that it happened three weeks ago.
There are more than 200 oknhas in Cambodia. Specifics on why the honorific, which dates back centuries, is passed out to a given individual are largely shrouded in mystery.
But the lucky recipients are usually wealthy men and women who steer contributions to the government and charity projects.
Analysts have also said a $100,000-plus infrastructure donation is part of the process.
“I do quite a lot of things for charity anyway, but I would increase that hopefully. I got some plans on that,” Blanche-Horgan said when asked how he would use his newly elevated status.
Blanche-Horgan came to Cambodia as the country manager for Australian telecommunications company Telstra, and started Ezecom, now Cambodia’s largest internet service provider, six years ago.
Fellow oknha Mong Reththy said that while he couldn’t comment on Blanche-Horgan’s appointment, “I think to be able to become an oknha, someone must have contributed a lot to society”.
“There are many oknhas at the moment. Some exploit the title, but being an oknha, one must be a kind and good person who keeps giving back to society.
“I am not sure how other oknhas get the title, but for me, I use my own money to help … like building schools, hospitals and roads, etc. The government saw my contribution, so they ask the King to appoint me as an oknha.”
Blanche-Horgan is one of a handful of elite Westermers (he’s originally from England) who have the title, which wasn’t even given out to French officials during the colonial period, according to Cambodia historian David Chandler.
But as Blanche-Horgan stressed, he doesn’t really qualify as a foreigner any more. The government awarded him Cambodian citizenship earlier this year.
“It is nice to receive something for the 16 years I have been here.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHAN MUY HONG