Cambodia National Rescue Party spokesman Yim Sovann said yesterday that calls for a corruption investigation into an opposition commune chief who sought donations to fund his office were acts of “intimidation” and “revenge” after the ruling party’s June 4 electoral losses.
Sam Choeun, who was elected chief of Russey Keo district’s Tuol Sangke II commune for the CNRP, has been accused by his second deputy chief – the Cambodian People’s Party’s Uk Khema – of illegally collecting funds in a box, which he says was to help run his office.
Choeun said he got the idea from a local resident and had presented the donations box to the Tuol Sangke II commune council before using it. However, he said Khema – who could not be reached yesterday – had taken photographs of the box and reported him to authorities.
“I don’t think this is wrong because the law doesn’t forbid us to do so. It is corruption if I take the money and put it in my pocket,” Choeun said, explaining that he scrapped the idea once it became clear it would be controversial. “They were not happy with it, so I took it back.”
Russey Keo district administrative head San Sophorn said he believed that Choeun’s fundraising activities were not legal, because sub-national administrations were only supposed to use their allocated budgets and were not allowed to personally raise money. “So, we see the box that he put there as wrong.
There is [other] money given for development, for salaries, commune materials, and other stuff,” Sophorn said, adding that a report was sent to City Hall and he was awaiting instructions on the next course of action.
Sophorn said that officials were also looking into reports from five CNRP-held communes across his district where the new opposition chiefs had appointed personal assistants. He said that the first and second deputy chiefs were already assigned as the chief’s assistants.
Sovann, the CNRP spokesman, said he believed the calls amounted to politically motivated targeting of new chiefs after the opposition’s strongest showing ever at the June 4 elections, and that it came while much larger corruption issues plaguing the country went untouched.
“It is a kind of intimidation. Rather than giving advice on how to work better, they want to take revenge. There should not be this culture of revenge,” Sovann said. “They should be investigating big corruption which is costing the country millions of dollars every year.”
The CNRP outperformed the Cambodian People’s Party across Phnom Penh, taking 57 of the 105 communes and taking five of sweeping Russey Keo’s seven communes. Some CNRP commune chiefs had a bumpy start to their terms after outgoing CPP commune chiefs refused to allow them to occupy their assigned offices.
Choeun, the Tuol Sangke II chief, said the blowing up of a minor issue seemed an attempt to hinder his administrative work. He said he had to instead use some of his own money to fund his activities and was taken aback at the allegations of corruption for fundraising. “I think this is to deter me to work as a commune chief. When something like this just happens, it is hard for me to work correctly,” he said.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan, who initially called attention to Choeun’s fundraising in an interview with local media, reiterated that Choeun had no right to raise funds from citizens and said it was a violation of the law. “Why did he collect money from people? This is against the law governing the sub-national administration. He just came, and has already caused problems.”