Officials yesterday painted the reshuffle of a Phnom Penh health official as a promotion after he was abruptly yanked from his position by Prime Minister Hun Sen on Saturday, seemingly for enforcing a standing ministry directive.
Former Phnom Penh Municipal Health Department director Sok Sokun will officially assume the new position of deputy secretary-general for technical affairs in the Ministry of Health, according to a copy of a sub-decree “promoting” the official that was signed by Hun Sen yesterday, and effective immediately.
The sub-decree formalising the transfer was posted on Facebook by ministry spokesman Ly Sovann, who said Sokun’s new role was a high-ranking position and would come with a pay raise, though he wouldn’t disclose salary information.
Sokun will “supervise over departments”, he added, saying that he didn’t know which ones at this point.
Sokun said yesterday that he was just doing his job on Thursday when health officials impounded an unregistered ambulance – carrying fruit juice and lacking medical personnel and equipment – belonging to popular ABC Radio station.
“On behalf of civil servant officials, I just [fulfilled] my obligation and work,” he said. But “we need to respect the top leader when he assigns us or promotes us to fulfil” a different role.
The action, however, raised eyebrows given that Sokun was removed from his role for enforcing a ministry regulation, and one observer yesterday said that instances of Hun Sen unilaterally firing and transferring officials to other positions – the second such case in recent months – could be seen as a “kind of power abuse” by the premier.
After ABC claimed it was using the vehicle for humanitarian purposes, and citing a public outcry, Hun Sen called the radio station on Saturday to apologise and said he had removed Sokun from his post for not having involved police and prosecutors, which he called a procedural error.
Dr Ngy Mean Heng, deputy director of the Phnom Penh health department, has been appointed to manage the department until a permanent director is hired, according to Sovann. Mean Heng said his administration had received a letter from the ministry indicating his new duties.
San Chey, executive director of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, said there were concerns with Hun Sen intervening in cases that should be resolved at the public administrative affairs level and not at the political level.
“This is not the first case. It’s the second case,” he said, referring to the case of Interior Ministry Lieutenant General Mam Srim Vanna. Last month, Hun Sen abruptly fired Srim Vanna after he drew public outrage when a video surfaced on social media of him belittling a traffic cop. However, Hun Sen reinstated him to his post a few hours later.
Chey adding that these interventions may suggest that Hun Sen is limiting the decentralisation of government powers.
The latest decision with Sokun was kind of an “emotion decision”, but instead, it should have been a decision in accordance with public administration policies, Chey said.
“The power is decentralised, and it’s given to the Ministry of Health,” he said. Hun Sen’s intervention “affects the existing power hierarchy”.