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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Rainsy takes sack blow on chin

Rainsy takes sack blow on chin

D ESPITE being stripped of his portfolio, Finance Minister Sam Rainsy said he would continue to enjoy life here and do his best to carry on serving the country.

The man voted the country's most popular minister put on a bold face as the Prime Ministers' ax fell.

As the Post went to press he was asked how he felt as he faced joining the ranks of the unemployed.

Rainsy said: "I'm not anxious, I'm not bitter, I'm very relaxed and calm.

"I shall never live abroad. Cambodia is my country and I've made it my home," he told the Post.

Some reports said that Kiet Chhon, minister of state and secretary general of the Cambodian Rehabilitation and Development Board, would become finance minister, while Cham Prasidh, Rainsy's deputy, would replace Var Huot as minister of commerce. Tao Seng Huor will take over the agriculture portfolio, ousting his boss Kong Sam Ol, the reports said.

Rainsy left Cambodia prior to the Khmer Rouge taking power in 1975. He worked for investment banks in the US, Europe and the Middle East. In the 1980's, he was the head of Funcinpec party in Europe, then became one of the party's two representatives in the Supreme National Council (SNC). He was elevated to be minister of finance one year ago, when the new government was formed after the UN-brokered elections.

After taking office, he introduced economic reforms along with a fight against corruption and crooked businessmen who laundered money and lined the pockets of greedy Cambodian politicians. His populist stand won large support from people at home, as well as from major lending institutions abroad.

Rainsy refused to speculate about the political maneuvering that led to his removal.

"I think we have to wait a few days until everything has calmed down. The situation is very complicated," he said, adding that he was proud to associate with all positive achievements the government has made during his time in office.

"The Prime Ministers have a right to make a reshuffle of any ministers at any time. This ministry [of finance] is not a private asset," he said.

Although most analysts believe the reshuffle is politically motivated, government officials have publicly stated that the changes are aimed at improving the work efficiency in all its institutions.

First Premier Ranariddh was reported to have told the Business Times in Singapore on Oct 14 that the government needed "unity and cohesion" to carry out its job.

"I need strong cohesion among those three ministries [finance, commerce and agriculture]. If there is a problem among the three ministries, we can not go any faster than we are going today," Ranariddh said.

The reshuffle has been a long awaited affair and many observers commented that it has been conducted with excessive secrecy with the government fearing a reaction on the street, especially to the replacement of Sam Rainsy. The government may also be nervous about a confidence vote in the National Assembly.

The submission of the list of changes was organized in a subtle way so that most backbench MPs were kept in the dark until the last minute about the reshuffle.

"Many MPs, common citizens and students feel sorry for Sam Rainsy [because he is] being removed. But this is government affairs and nobody can interfere," one MP said, requesting anonymity.

According to Loy Sim Chheang, the National Assembly's acting chairman, the house received a written proposal from the Cabinet of Ministers on Oct. 13, asking the permanent committee to put the reshuffle list on the agenda of the session on Oct 20.

In a session on Oct 18, Sim Chheang called the proposal "important and urgent", and upon his request, all 101 MPs raised their hands in favor of the agenda for the Oct 20 session.

"Normally, the government would attach the actual draft with the proposal for any bill to be debated and passed. But for this case, what the permanent committee had seen from the cabinet was just the proposal," said another MP.

"Despite, it [the cabinet] kept saying 'it's urgent and secret'. Why is changing the cabinet so secret? Or is the government afraid of something?" he asked.

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