An Interior Ministry official who drew public outrage after video emerged of him belittling a traffic cop found himself sacked yesterday, only to be restored to his former position in the span of a few hours thanks to a change of heart by Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Lieutenant General Mam Srim Vanna’s predicament began on Tuesday afternoon when he was pulled over by Phnom Penh traffic officer Soth Kantha, who tried to give him a ticket.
In the argument that ensued, Srim Vanna, a deputy director at the Immigration Department, pulled rank on his junior, dismissively referring to Kantha as “ar police”, using a derogatory word most often aimed at children.
The incident first came to light after Kantha posted the incident to social media, saying he had been suspended after Srim Vanna called his superiors to complain, an assertion publicly denied by municipal traffic police chief Chev Hak.
The fallout eventually made its way to the office of the prime minister, who yesterday morning issued a sub-decree dismissing Srim Vanna from his position – but allowing him to keep his rank.
Hun Sen posted the decision on his Facebook account, noting that Vanna’s language disrespected all traffic police and that he should know better as a police officer himself. But he also wrote that if Vanna acknowledged his mistake and changed his ways, the Ministry of Interior could request to appoint him to a suitable new position.
Comments on the prime minister’s post – which as of press time had nearly 6,100 shares and 28,000 likes – began flooding in, both for and against the firing. By late afternoon, a softening Hun Sen was suggesting the two could meet to solve the problem face to face.
Shortly thereafter, they did just that, meeting at the Peace Palace, where they were photographed shaking hands and calling it a day, before the premier returned to Facebook to nullify the earlier sub-decree.
Chev Hak, chief of the municipal traffic police bureau, yesterday blamed the embarrassing incident on the capricious nature of the internet, saying that the heated argument had already been solved, “but because [it was] posted on social media, it stirred up again”.
Affiliated Network for Social Accountability-East Asia and the Pacific representative San Chey said the prime minister had been “too quick” to insert himself into the situation and should have let the Interior Ministry handle the punishment.
The premier, perhaps predictably, saw things a little differently. “This is changing a lose-lose situation that happened in the past to a win-win situation . . . and there is no need to place the punishment, as both officers helped to create the culture of reconciliation and solidarity,” the premier said after reversing his decision.
As for Srim Vanna, the focus of his gratitude was clear.
“I am very happy and thankful that Samdech [Hun Sen] forgave me.”