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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - New rice body gets president

Sok Puthyvuth
Sok Puthyvuth speaks at the Ministry of Commerce yesterday after being elected president of the Cambodia Rice Federation. Heng Chivoan

New rice body gets president

The newly formed Cambodia Rice Federation (CRF), an organisation aimed at uniting the entire rice sector under one representative body, will be headed by Sok Puthyvuth, son of Deputy Prime Minister Sok An.

Puthyvuth, who is also CEO of SOMA Group, a multifaceted business that includes rice milling and exporting, was elected president of the CRF yesterday in a landslide victory over his fellow candidates, receiving nearly 75 per cent of the 195 ballots cast. Most of those who voted were rice millers.

“There are so many challenges in this sector, but so far standard rice quality and the lack of funds are the main challenges,” he said at yesterday’s announcement, held at the Ministry of Commerce.

Puthyvuth – who is married to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s youngest daughter, Hun Mali – said he is looking to raise $500 million and find lower loan interest rates of nearer to 7 per cent for those looking to invest in the industry. Rates now stand closer to 10 per cent.

“There are many people out there who want to help us, but when they ask what we are going to do with the money they provide, we fail to show them a proper plan,” he said, referring to lenders requirements.

Candidates who missed out on the CRF’s top job included Yorn Sovann, president of Bayon Cereal Company; Lim Bunheng, president of Loran Company; and Te Taing Por, chairman of the Federation of Associations of Small and Medium-Size Enterprise of Cambodia.

Kith Meng, head of Royal Group, was also running for the presidency, but withdrew his candidacy at the last minute and was absent from yesterday’s election result.

“I hope he [Puthyvuth] will be able to help boost the rice sector for all,” Chea Vanna, a rice miller from Battambang province, said.

Vanna said he had lost faith in the sector’s former representative bodies, where the top brass was more likely to focus on their own business interests rather than those of the industry as a whole.

“If the federation fails to do that this time, I will not trust any association again,” he added.

Kim Savuth, head of the Federation of Cambodian Rice Exporters (FCRE) and one of three vice presidents appointed at yesterday’s event, assured sceptics that the CRF would work in the sector’s best interest and – despite its new president’s family ties – be free of political interference.

“This federation has been created by the voices of the private sector, not appointed by government, and there are no doubts that it will work as an independent institution,” Savuth said.

Not everyone is convinced.

Son Chhay, chief whip of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, was quick to criticise what he called a predictable result with obvious conflicts of interest

“I am very sceptical of Sok An’s son being appointed to the position,” Chhay said.

“This kind of organisation does need to be run by someone who knows the industry and is part of it. But they need a president that does not have a commercial interest in it.”

Associations or federations created before the CRF, such as the FCRE and the Association of Rice Producers & Exporters of Cambodia, will likely be dissolved following upcoming meetings with the newly established industry body, CRF vice president Savuth said yesterday.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Kim Savuth as head of the Cambodia Rice Exporters Association. He leads the Federation of Cambodian Rice Exporters.
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vandavid's picture

Elections are held in a fully transparent manner possible by MOC and this is the first time a private sector institution went through such a meticulously prepared electoral process with inspection teams dispatched by MOC to verify credentials of voters in the field. In fact, as a key person behind the entire CRF (Cambodia Rice Federation) thing, I would even say that other private sector institutions should emulate such transparent electoral process. Hence, Phnom Penh Post reporters wrongly mistaken the Board was "appointed" while the entire Board was "elected" through proper transparent manner and they earned their posts fully on merit.

The Opposition would surely view this suspiciously by virtue of the fact that winning candidate is by kinship related to the PM and DPM but he is involved in the agricultural sector business and the rice business for years and met the criteria to be qualified to run for Chairmanship candidate. I would like to highlight that the Board is NOT appointed but duly elected through transparent process. Plus the CRF Charter has many protection clauses locked in to avoid nepotism and favoritism in how it would be managed such as:

1/ Limit the Chairman to one Mandate of 2 years to allow other aspiring candidates to rise to the opportunities
2/ Decision making for CRF is based on simple majority of the Board and no individual would be making decision and act on his/her own
3/ Compulsory audit of accounts annualy to ensure full transparency of how members' contributions are being spent (some key national private sector institutions Chairman spent their members money freely without accountability!)

To end up, I would only say Cambodia rice sector has won a small battle by seeing the formation of a National Level Federation with new people at the helm bringing in a hopefully more proactive management method. But we still have a long long war to fight out there in the highly challenging Global Rice Trade looking at what our immediate neighboring competitors are doing...

vandavid's picture

I wish to hereby clarify the status of the various rice associations that Oknha Kim Savuth has mistakenly stated in his comment quoted in the article:

1/ FCRE (Federation of Cambodian Rice Exporters) was established formerly in 2012 by the Ministry of Commerce and shall be automatically declared nul & void by the same Ministry now that the National Level CRF (Cambodia Rice Federation)is established with a first Board elected (NOT appointed) by the trade stakeholders themselves.

2/ ARPEC (Alliance of Rice Producers & Exporters) as well as CREA (Cambodian Rice Exporters Association) are associations established by the private sector themselves and thus the Ministry of Commerce has no jurisdiction to shut them down. They can simply continue to exist and eventually re-oriented to other activities although their members have mainly all come under the new umbrella of CRF (Cambodia Rice Federation). Further decision on what to do with these other key rice associations rests with their respective Boards notwithstanding the fact that CRF is now the solely recognized rice institution by the government.

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