Despite damning allegations of corruption and mismanagement under his tenure, Lao Saroeun, the onetime director general of state-owned Telecom Cambodia, has been moved from his job and promoted to an undersecretary of state position within the same governmental ministry.
In a handover ceremony yesterday at Telecom Cambodia’s office in Phnom Penh, So Khun, minister of posts and telecommunications, announced that Saroeun’s deputy, Kem Vikra, would replace him and hold the position for a trial period of one year.
Khun hardly made mention of allegations by staff that $2 million went unaccounted for under Saroeun’s leadership, and that hundreds of angry employees called for Saroeun’s removal in a protest on February 13.
The complaints wound their way to the Anti-Corruption Unit, and in a meeting about two weeks later with Telecom Cambodia employees, officials promised to investigate.
But when asked about the status of the investigation yesterday, ACU spokesman Keo Remy declined to comment.
Khun told participants yesterday that the company had to move forward.
“If we do not reform, there are only two options we will face: die or fail,” he said.
He added that he hopes Vikra can turn the company around after years of lackluster performance.
If anything, critics who can’t prove corruption allegations against Saroeun can always point to less than impressive balance sheets.
According to an independent audit, Telecom Cambodia, without factoring in transit fees, has lost money every year since 2008.
In 2012, revenues declined by $10.2 million, while 2011 saw losses of $14.4 million. Over the past five years, revenue dipped by a total of $57 million.
In the annual meeting of the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications last week, Sarak Khan, secretary of state at the ministry, said Telecom Cambodia’s plan to join the Cambodia Securities Exchange has been postponed indefinitely due to poor financial performance.
Saroeun, who attended the ceremony yesterday, was not available for comment.
Staffer Mom Rin told the Post yesterday that the key issue for him and colleagues was the removal of Saroeun from his post, and as that had happened yesterday, he is pleased.
“We are happy because we protested to have a change.”
But observers of the case said yesterday that Saroeun’s new job title meant little change has taken place.
“That’s what happens with many, many other people – it’s no longer outrageous because it happens so often,” said Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights.
Though with the public nature of the handover ceremony and the implied scolding, other officials will “get the message,” Virak added.
“The thing is, it’s not their rank or position. It will be seen officially as a promotion and unofficially as a demotion. He’ll be posted in a less lucrative position – less opportunity for corruption, in other words.”
Kol Preap, executive director of Transparency International, said in an email that the onus is on the ACU to complete its investigation and release its findings.
“If there was evidence that he siphoned off money for private gain, then this case would need to be brought before the courts so he can be sentenced for committing a crime (corruption) and serve the regular jail term that usually applies to such a crime,” he said.
“If not communicating such cases and accepting the promotion of a person under investigation without proper justification, it would put the ACU at risk of losing confidence and trust from the public and relevant stakeholders.”