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Opportunity fails to knock

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Mixed messages on nepotism: Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks last week in Phnom Penh. Photograph: Pha Lina/Phnom Penh Post

There's a Khmer proverb that goes, “A hen laying her eggs on paddy rice will eat the rice.”

The meaning is that when someone holds a significant position, they will always take full advantage of it.
But they don’t just take advantage themselves. They also bring their children, nephews or relatives, as the paddy rice hasn’t run out yet.      

Some (low-ranking) officials were happy when they heard Prime Minister Hun Sen speaking out against nepotism in several ministries.

But the Prime Minister’s own children hold high positions; Hun Manet, his eldest son, has no fewer than four. So perhaps the Prime Minister sometimes turns a deaf ear to the issue.           

A turning point came when the Royal Government, with the stated aim of ensuring good governance, launched a reform of public administration. This provided an opportunity for high-ranking people’s relat-ives to step into positions previously occupied by long-serving officials.

As an example, Chhoeun Chan-than, the former head of Senate president Chea Sim’s bodyguard, was recently replaced by Yim Leang, the son of Deputy Prime Minister Yim Chhayly (who is a relative by marriage of Hun Sen).

Yim Leang is also the son-in-law of Rural Development Minister Chea Sophara.

Last year, a position — Director General of Administration and General Affairs — was created at the Secretariat of Civil Aviation, which is under the supervision of the Council of Ministers.

This position is held by Seng Sadta, an official from the Council of Ministers and a nephew of Dep-uty Prime Minister Sok An, who oversees the Council of Ministers.

Officials at the secretariat, some of whom have served the country for more than 20 years, could only look at one another in bafflement when Sadta’s appointment was announced.

With networking as tight as this, how can smart young people who are the children of ordinary Cam-bodians have an opportunity to participate in developing our nation?

The political trend in Cambodia, and much of the world, is changing as younger people assume leadership. Think Barack Obama, Xi Jinping, David Cameron, Ying-luck Shinawatra.    

Last month, the Cambodian People’s Party announced it was recruiting young people to stand as candidates at the next national election, due in July.

It seems that only when its elderly members are unable to carry on does the CPP, which has governed for more than 30 years, begin thinking about tapping the talent in younger age groups.

According to the 2008 census, people aged from 18 to 35 make up 38 per cent of Cambodia’s population — and they’re all eligible to vote.

But when the next generation becomes involved in politics, will there be a change?

When younger people find themselves in leadership positions, will they be able to resolve issues important to their peers, such as finding jobs, resolving the issue of gangsters and creating proper sport and rec-reation facilities?

Unfortunately, almost all the young people standing as candidates for the CPP are the children of high-ranking party officials.

So is there any hope of change?

According to senior CPP figure Cheam Yeap’s announcement, the candidates are Hun Many, son of the Prime Minister; Dy Vichea, son-in-law of the Prime Minister; Sar Sokha, son of Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng; the children of Dep-uty Prime Minister Sok An; Supreme Court president Dith Moty; the son of Senate First Deputy President Say Chhum; and Cheam Yeap’s own child as well.

This indicates the ruling party is preparing to hold the positions of chair and vice-chair of the working group on CPP youths at all ministries and in every province or city.

Another thing: the law on elect-ions states that if a person stands for election, they must give up their civil servant’s position. Are the children of those high-ranking officials preparing to resign yet?  

Nepotism isn’t restricted to the ruling party. Kong Bora, a legislator from Prey Veng province, is the son of Kong Kam, acting president of the Sam Rainsy Party.

There are also families in which the husband and wife are both politicians. Sam Rainsy is the husband of Choulong Sumara; Yim Sovann is the husband of Ke Sovanroth; and Eng Chhay Ieng is a relative by marriage of Kuy Bunroeun.

On March 7, Hun Sen asked his spokesperson to leak information on nepotism.

The Prime Minister has also referred to “newspaper commentary on the nomination of high-ranking officials’ kids as political candidates, when all these positions are open to other candidates”.

He asked: “Why do newspapers think only about this happening in politics? Why not in other sectors?”

The answer is that in a culture of nepotism and partisanship, everything has been set up well in advance and the children of ordinary people, even though they may possess fierce determination and any number of degrees, have little or no opportunity to enter politics.

So they must search for any opportunity to hold a position and enter politics. Otherwise, they’ll remain outside the arena.

Tong Soprach is a social-affairs columnist for the Post's Khmer edition.

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