Pech Sokhoeun – chief of Teuk La’ak I commune in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kork district and a member of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) – is known by area residents for his achievements in local economic development, improving public services and maintaining the safety of his neighbourhood.
According to the NEC’s preliminary election results, Sokhoeun won re-election in the 5th-mandate commune council elections held on June 5 with a majority of the commune’s nearly 7,000 eligible voters choosing him to continue serving in his post as commune chief.
Sokhoeun was interviewed by The Post about his political career and his challenges and accomplishments while in office.
When did you first take office as commune chief?
I became the Teuk La’ak I commune chief in September of 2000 through an appointment by former Phnom Penh Municipal Governor Chea Sophara, based on my qualifications such as personal ability and my education level, so I wasn’t elected to the office when I first got the job.
Why are you interested in being a commune chief?
Well, back when I graduated in 1998, Chea Sophara announced that they were selecting students to receive training to become ASEAN or Interpol police at the Borei Keila centre and I was accepted. Later on Sophara appointed some of the students from the group to work in communes and district administrations. After some of the former administrators were accused of involvement with the Ara Smach gang, Sophara promoted me to help clean things up in 2000.
What were the challenges of being a commune chief at that time?
As an inexperienced student, it was a challenge for me. I needed to work hard and gain experience doing the administrative work of the district. Overall, it was very challenging because I was new and without much experience at only 27 years old.
I’ve learned a lot from working as a commune chief and from living among the people here and serving them. It can be difficult at times because whenever you have two or more people collaborating on a project you’re going to have some contrasting ideas. Sometimes you find yourself working at cross-purposes or in parallel rather than together.
But overall there has been a lot of development of the commune. The roads are all paved with concrete and streetlights and drainage systems and so on. Everything has improved.
You’ve been commune chief for five mandates now including this one, correct?
Not quite. In total, there have been five mandates since the formation of the current government, but I did not stand in the first mandate. I was appointed a commune council member during that mandate and then from the second through fifth mandates I was elected as commune chief.
What do you attribute your electoral successes to?
I think the important thing is to serve the people, both in terms of what they need and being responsive to what they ask for. With public service, even though we try as hard as we can, it’s still impossible to fulfil everyone’s wishes all of the time. But the important thing is to try and serve them wholeheartedly.
Even though everyone doesn’t always get everything they want or need, if you try as best you can then Cambodians will love you for it. But that’s true of everyone, whether Cambodian or not, if you serve them well they will appreciate that.
This job is about paying attention to the details in the commune that are important to daily life. Whether that’s security and public services or requirements such as acting as registrars or issuing necessary documents, if we don’t pay attention to their needs or are careless in our work they won’t love us and they certainly won’t vote for us. Cambodians have a very practical mindset like that.
What are your plans for your term during this new mandate?
The CPP always holds its own summits and determines the direction for development and other services down to the local level. Based on the pre-election meetings, I’d say we’re going to continue to put emphasis on improving the one window service mechanism, including in Teuk La’ak I commune.
In accordance with instructions from the municipal administration, we want to strengthen our customer service with the one window mechanism by being hospitable and welcoming to all those who come for help and improve our response times on services through the one window offices.
In terms of other developments aside from those I’ve mentioned, there are plans to improve in other areas such as social services, healthcare and education, with the council following the five year mandates planning policies.
We want to respond to people’s requests faster in general. Issues like sewer blockages, electricity cutting off, problems with requesting documents – we must work hard to earn the people’s support throughout this new mandate.
How well did your party do in the commune in the most recent election?
Assuming the final results match the initial count, it looks like the CPP won nine out of 11 seats, with the Candlelight Party winning the other two council seats.
Having competition for these offices is a good thing. It means that to win elections we must do our jobs well and continue to serve the people, based on the commune administration law and its clear division of roles and responsibilities for the commune chief and deputy chiefs.
We will work together with everyone on the council to serve the needs of the people in accordance with the law and with the internal regulations of our council.
So it is a good thing to have two parties working together?
It is in fact much better to have two parties working together. If one party does it alone they aren’t able to judge as accurately whether their job performance or policies are good or bad.
How will the policy of village commune safety be implemented?
Overall, In Tuek La’ak I commune, we’re planning on three initiatives to focus on strengthening safety and public order.
The first target is Kim Il Sung Blvd and another is an intersection of St 598 where we’ve had complaints about because of people using and selling drugs there. And then we are also going to step-up regular patrols through the commune that move from place to place.
However, commune safety is not only the work of the police and the authorities. The residents must also participate in the work of keeping their villages and communes safe. We rely on good citizens to let us know when trouble occurs and to provide information on suspected criminal activity or other unsafe situations taking place in their neighbourhoods.