Four officials have been elevated to become governors of three provinces and Phnom Penh, including controversial Deputy Phnom Penh Governor Khuong Sreng, who will take over leadership of the capital from retiring current Governor Pa Socheatvong.
In addition to Sreng’s elevation, a royal decree signed into effect on Friday states that Mithona Phouthorng will become the first female governor to head the province of Koh Kong, former Daun Penh District Governor Kouch Chamroeun will be taking over Kampong Cham and Ly Leng will become Tbong Khmum provincial governor.
The four retiring governors will be given positions as advisers to the national government, holding a rank equivalent to minister.
After months of whispers that Environment Minister Say Samal would take over from Socheatvong as the capital’s governor, Sreng’s appointment has laid rest to those speculations.
Sreng, who could not be reached yesterday, was in charge of security and oversaw the crackdown on protesters at Freedom Park in 2014, and also defended the arrest of civil society members during last year’s Black Monday protests calling for the release of the so-called Adhoc 5.
Activist monk Loun Sovath took to Facebook to post a picture of himself and Sreng in which the latter is angrily pointing at him during a protest outside City Hall. Reached yesterday, Sovath questioned the new Phnom Penh governor’s credentials.
“The officials who have bad reputations, records of violence, immorality, or those who people do not respect, got promoted,” he said by phone yesterday.
Also controversial is Kouch Chamroeun, who, as the governor of Daun Penh district in the capital, was in charge of the notorious Daun Penh security guards. The guards have frequently been used to violently disperse peaceful protests.
Chamroeun now heads to the critical province of Kampong Cham, which has over the past two election cycles turned into an opposition stronghold. Acutely aware of this, Chamroeun said yesterday he was obliged to work for the province’s residents, but will use his private time to strengthen the party.
“What I can do is nothing more than going to the citizens, listening to their problems and finding solutions for them,” he said.
Koh Kong’s Phouthorng, whose father Yuth Phouthorng was also a governor for the province, said she was happy to have been selected to head the province but was also aware of the added responsibilities. She said she was unsure when she would be officially sworn in.
“I am feeling happy, and I will improve myself to fit with the government’s trust and cooperate with officials at the provincial level,” she said yesterday.
Licadho’s Koh Kong coordinator Hour In said the 38-year-old Koh Kong resident had been appointed as deputy provincial governor, but appeared to have leaped over her contemporaries to take the province’s top job.
He added that she was actively involved in Hun Many’s Union of Youth Federations of Cambodia, conducting environmental and humanitarian programmes.
“I do not see any major achievements from her. I have just seen her actions as the head of Union of Youth Federations of Cambodia in Koh Kong province,” he said.
Gender and Development for Cambodia’s Ros Sopheap said it was encouraging to see the country’s first female governor, especially one as young as Phouthorng. But she was worried about whether her priorities would be dictated by the predominantly male senior leadership for the province.
“We [hope] that what she does, she will follow policies based on her sensibility without any pressure. There should be female voices accompanying her,” she said.
Tbong Khmum’s new Governor Ly Leng and his predecessor Prach Chan could not be reached yesterday.