During a cabinet meeting on Friday, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced a “vision” to shrink the country’s cabinet by excluding secretaries and undersecretaries of state from the body, and to be given the right to bypass the National Assembly by appointing them directly, according to a government spokesman yesterday. Both measures would require constitutional amendments.
Cambodia’s executive branch currently has nearly 240 members, including the prime minister, deputy prime ministers, senior ministers, ministers and secretaries of state.
Under the proposed changes, secretaries of state and undersecretaries of state would no longer be considered members of the cabinet and would be “handpicked” by the prime minister and appointed in a royal decree.
“[Prime Minister Hun Sen] feels that the government is too large because it includes secretaries of state and undersecretaries of state,” Siphan said. He wants the cabinet to be “exclusive for ministers only”.
Preap Kol, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia, suggested reducing the size of government because it is “currently overstaffed at the top level”, which he said could benefit in being cut by half.
The proposed measure, however, would make little difference “except that they will be classified differently”, he said.
“After all they will still be paid under the government’s payroll.”
Paul Chambers, a Southeast Asia expert at Thailand’s Naresuan University, said in an email that the proposed changes had the potential to “allow the Prime Minister to appoint cronies for political favors, avoiding the more timely process of parliamentary approval despite the fact that the prime minister’s preferences are already guaranteed because his CPP dominates parliament”.
“The issue is that [the prime minister’s] appointments [of secretaries and undersecretaries of state] expedite his preferences,” he said.
In order for such a measure to go into effect, constitutional changes would need to be made, which requires a working group. According to a document from the Council of Ministers dated December 1, a 12-member working group was appointed to make constitutional amendments, though Siphan said he was unaware of the group.
Sak Setha, secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior and a member of the new working group, said the team will study the Constitution to see if there are important changes to suggest to the government. He declined to say which specific amendments the group will be considering, saying it would “focus on the effectiveness of the institutions” enshrined in the Constitution.
“We already know that the Constitution bans affecting the monarchy and multiparty democratic systems, therefore the amendments aim to improve democracy and effectiveness of the institutions in the Constitution,” he said.