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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Chhay aims to purge Nat'l Assembly of ‘ghosts’

Senior Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker Son Chhay arrives at the National Assembly in August
Senior Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker Son Chhay arrives at the National Assembly in August. Chhay has requested information on National Assembly staff to mount an investigation into ghost workers and nepotistic appointments. Heng Chivoan

Chhay aims to purge Nat'l Assembly of ‘ghosts’

Senior opposition lawmaker Son Chhay has formally requested that the entire staff list of the National Assembly’s more than 1,000-strong secretariat be turned over to him for investigation as part of a bid to root out “ghost” workers and nepotistic appointments.

As part of his one-man crusade to clean up parliament, Chhay has also accused a senior secretariat official of appointing more than 20 members of his own family to paid positions on assembly staff and asked for a probe.

In a letter sent Tuesday to assembly Secretary-General Leng Peng Long, Chhay, who also serves as deputy head of the parliamentary Commission on Economics, Finance, Banking and Auditing, says that he has received information that Mith Karen, a deputy secretary-general, used his influence to appoint family members to a slew of positions.

In the letter, he names seven alleged relatives of Karen working for the secretariat, but told the Post yesterday that he believes there could be “more than 20” in total.

According to Chhay, the information was presented to him by parliamentary staff. He says in the letter that “if true, the action represents large-scale and systematic corruption that damages the reputation of the institution, which has the responsibility to check the irregularities of other institutions”.

“I’ve heard about that for quite some time but I never really got the names and relationships to [link to] this person clearly. [But] now they have issued the information that provides me with more details, and I could check on that with a couple more people to find that it’s a real thing, and that’s why I decided to [make this request],” Chhay said yesterday.

Karen could not be reached despite numerous attempts.

Peng Long declined to comment in detail on Chhay’s letter. He said that whether he would hand over the list of staff and related employment documents would depend on the decision of the National Assembly’s permanent standing committee.

“I am an administrative officer. I follow the law. I have a personnel list, but I cannot talk about a decision [on the request yet]. I will inform His Excellency Son Chhay later,” he said.

Assembly spokesman Nhem Thavy, parliamentary second deputy president Nguon Nghel and numerous senior ruling party lawmakers could not be reached for comment.

According to Chhay, the National Assembly’s proposed budget has increased by more than $10 million between this year and 2015, a blowout that he blamed on financial irregularities and an increasing number of “ghost” employees.

“This must involve the personnel who have only names [on the payroll] but they never come to work,” he said. “Another thing is [strange] expenses such as $35,000 for a photocopier.”

In August, the Anti-Corruption Unit vowed a crackdown on ghost workers in public institutions.

Last month, an assembly official told the Post that of the more than 1,000 staff on parliament’s payroll, only about 400 to 500 bother coming to work – figures that match Chhay’s estimates.

Transparency International Cambodia (TIC) said yesterday that there was a “strong correlation” between nepotism and corruption in Cambodia.

“TI Cambodia’s National Integrity System Assessment 2014 reveals that nepotism is widespread in the public sector and key government institutions,” said Pech Pisey, director of programs at TIC.

“TI Cambodia believes that there [should] be more oversight into the process of selection and recruitment of public officials based on qualifications, expertise and merits. Not who you know and bribe.”

Chhay said that while nepotism was rife across government institutions, it usually emanates from top-level officials, such as ministers. But in parliament, “it’s very interesting that you have these people that are not the head of the institution who are able to put all [their] relatives in charge of important departments and can do whatever they want”.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan declined to comment on the assembly case specifically yesterday, but acknowledged that nepotism exists in the government.

“It does exist, but very much in the minority. And especially in this mandate, [recruitment] will be based on competence,” he said. Siphan claimed that in the past, faced with a lack of human resources, officials’ children educated abroad who chose to eschew the private sector were useful to the government.

“When they come back from overseas, [most] work for companies or NGOs, so [those] that sacrificed to work for the government, [it was out of] loyalty for their family that they stayed with the government.”

He added that reforms pushed through in the last mandate had set mandatory civil-service exams.

While he said Chhay’s request was positive, Siphan also said that the opposition should not forget to examine nepotism in its own ranks.

The eldest daughter of Cambodia National Rescue Party deputy leader Kem Sokha, Kem Monovithya, serves as the party’s deputy head of public affairs. She recently faced accusations of nepotism from US-based donors to the party when floated as a possible CNRP candidate to the new National Election Committee.

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