Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday distributed a suite of roles held by his late deputy Sok An among other ministers, reversing an earlier announcement by his spokesman that all the responsibilities would go to Deputy Prime Minister Bin Chhin.
Hun Sen chided his spokesman Phay Siphan, and journalists, for making assumptions that the diverse portfolio held by his late right-hand man would go to Chhin.
“You should not want to be famous and do not act like you know everything,” Hun Sen said, referring to both spokespeople and journalists. “Sometimes the journalist is not wrong but we give wrong information and the ill-intended persons make it widespread … in order to correct it, I now inject a vaccine to get rid of the craziness.”
Sok An, who died last week, oversaw so many committees that he was likened to a Hindu god with many arms. Deputy Prime Minister Bin Chhin was announced as Sok An’s successor as minister of the Council of Ministers, but the premier dismissed the suggestion – made by Siphan and circulated by local media outlets – that Chhin would adopt all of Sok An’s former duties.
One of the biggest changes signalled in reassigning the portfolios was to the Apsara Authority, which oversees the Angkorian temples, and which will now fall under the purview of Culture Minister Phoeurng Sackona.
The premier said in addition to the Apsara Authority, the Culture Ministry would also take the helm of the National Authority of Preah Vihear and the Cambodian National Commission for UNESCO.
The National Railway Committee will be handed to Transport Minister Sun Chanthol, while leadership of the Engineering Council will fall to the Labour Minister Ith Sam Heng.
The National Association of Cambodian Scouts and its budget will go to Minister of Education Hang Chuon Naron, while Sok An’s roles at the Royal Academy of Cambodia and the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation will remain under the umbrella of the Council of Ministers.
Chhin will chair the government’s taskforce on the UN-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal.
Hun Sen went on to urge the media to “be careful”, adding: “our official [Siphan] has no discipline … The boss who settles it is now here”.
The appointments would be made official by royal sub-decree in due course, he said.
The news came as a surprise to Apsara Authority spokesperson Chau Sun Kerya, who said she had no knowledge of the decision. “We know nothing at all,” Sun Kerya said. “Apsara is very, very important for Cambodia, but the Minister [of Culture] is very interested in what happens in Apsara … I don’t have any concern; if it keeps working as before, it’s no problem.”
Angkor Wat ticket sales generated more than $63 million last year. Culture Ministry spokesman Thai Norak Satya said there was already cooperation between the two bodies, but acknowledged that the ministry needed “to strengthen our capabilities, management and quality of human resources” to assume control of its new responsibilities. “I think these works will not be a big obstacle when there is willingness to do the job,” he said.
Khmer Rouge tribunal spokesman Neth Pheaktra suspected there would be “no disruption” under Chhin, adding that his key responsibilities would be to cooperate with the UN and keep government funds flowing to keep the tribunal running smoothly. Pheaktra said this would include addressing a $2.5 million budget gap for Cambodian staff salaries in the latter half of this year, though the government has already provided $4.15 million for 2017.
Sok An’s portfolio was drastically curtailed following the ruling party’s poor showing at the 2013 national election, including at the Cambodian National Petroleum Authority, which was cloaked in secrecy during his rule but is now under the Ministry of Mines and Energy.
Siphan yesterday said he was not worried about the Prime Minister’s admonishment, and instead thanked him for his “instruction”. “He does not accuse me – it is just a reminder,” Siphan said. “He is the boss. I respect him so much.”