The newly formed Cambodia Rice Federation (CRF), an organisation aimed at uniting the entire rice sector under one representative body, will be headed by Sok Puthyvuth, son of Deputy Prime Minister Sok An.
Puthyvuth, who is also CEO of SOMA Group, a multifaceted business that includes rice milling and exporting, was elected president of the CRF yesterday in a landslide victory over his fellow candidates, receiving nearly 75 per cent of the 195 ballots cast. Most of those who voted were rice millers.
“There are so many challenges in this sector, but so far standard rice quality and the lack of funds are the main challenges,” he said at yesterday’s announcement, held at the Ministry of Commerce.
Puthyvuth – who is married to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s youngest daughter, Hun Mali – said he is looking to raise $500 million and find lower loan interest rates of nearer to 7 per cent for those looking to invest in the industry. Rates now stand closer to 10 per cent.
“There are many people out there who want to help us, but when they ask what we are going to do with the money they provide, we fail to show them a proper plan,” he said, referring to lenders requirements.
Candidates who missed out on the CRF’s top job included Yorn Sovann, president of Bayon Cereal Company; Lim Bunheng, president of Loran Company; and Te Taing Por, chairman of the Federation of Associations of Small and Medium-Size Enterprise of Cambodia.
Kith Meng, head of Royal Group, was also running for the presidency, but withdrew his candidacy at the last minute and was absent from yesterday’s election result.
“I hope he [Puthyvuth] will be able to help boost the rice sector for all,” Chea Vanna, a rice miller from Battambang province, said.
Vanna said he had lost faith in the sector’s former representative bodies, where the top brass was more likely to focus on their own business interests rather than those of the industry as a whole.
“If the federation fails to do that this time, I will not trust any association again,” he added.
Kim Savuth, head of the Federation of Cambodian Rice Exporters (FCRE) and one of three vice presidents appointed at yesterday’s event, assured sceptics that the CRF would work in the sector’s best interest and – despite its new president’s family ties – be free of political interference.
“This federation has been created by the voices of the private sector, not appointed by government, and there are no doubts that it will work as an independent institution,” Savuth said.
Not everyone is convinced.
Son Chhay, chief whip of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, was quick to criticise what he called a predictable result with obvious conflicts of interest
“I am very sceptical of Sok An’s son being appointed to the position,” Chhay said.
“This kind of organisation does need to be run by someone who knows the industry and is part of it. But they need a president that does not have a commercial interest in it.”
Associations or federations created before the CRF, such as the FCRE and the Association of Rice Producers & Exporters of Cambodia, will likely be dissolved following upcoming meetings with the newly established industry body, CRF vice president Savuth said yesterday.