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Interior Ministry official slams nepotism claims as ‘poisonous’

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Khmer Rise Party president Sok Sovann Vathana Sabung (Front).

Interior Ministry official slams nepotism claims as ‘poisonous’

A director at the Ministry of Interior, Thim Sopha, on Monday denied accusations of nepotism levelled against him last week by Khmer Rise Party president Sok Sovann Vathana Sabung.

At a consultation forum meeting on Thursday, Vathana Sabung accused Sopha of having 22 relatives employed in his General Department of Internal Audits.

Four-star general Sopha dismissed the claim as a “factual distortion” and a “poison to society”, but the ministry’s staff department has decided to investigate the allegations.

Speaking to The Post on Monday, Sopha said Cambodia “has no law prohibiting members of one family working at the same place”, but said that he “did not have up to 22 relatives employed in his department” as was claimed.

He said the “groundless and unreasonable criticism” was made by officials who were unhappy with him.

“It is, in fact, just a factual distortion. Such information is meaningless because it is not true, and it should not have been used to poison society like this,” he said.

However, Sopha did admit that his three children, an in-law and three cousins are working within his department, but that they were recruited “in accordance with the conditions and policies of the Ministry of Interior”.

On Thursday, Vathana Sabung posted on his official Facebook page that Sopha’s case showed that the ministry still needed to tackle the culture of nepotism in government departments in order to give people an equal opportunity.

He gave several specific examples of Sopha’s relatives working in senior roles in his department.

These include Major General Sokrith Thorn Eyssara, Sopha’s son-in-law; Noy Sophirun, Sopha’s 21-year-old son who is the department’s first deputy director; and Noy Sopharoth, Sopha’s daughter, who is the department’s staff office deputy head.

“Four-star general Thim Sopha has recruited 22 of his family members – including his children, his children-in-law, his cousins, cousin-in-law, grandchildren and relatives – to work in the General Department of Internal Audits, sub-departments and offices."

“This is huge nepotism in the official government system in Cambodia,” he wrote.

In a further post on Friday, he said poorer children who had no connections failed to pass government examinations because they did not have the same strings to pull as wealthier children, who are often accepted due to who they know.

“The rich children still pass even though they fail the examinations. The poor children, no matter how much effort they have put in, still fail the examination,” he said.

Ministry of Interior secretary of state Sork Setha told The Post that on Sunday, Interior Minister Sar Kheng instructed relevant staff at the ministry to investigate Sopha’s case.

“Sar Kheng told the department staff to work on this. We will verify whether there were irregularities."

“We will investigate whether the appointments [by Sopha] have been done based on the conditions and principles or not. If the appointments were done in accordance with the terms and principles, then it is fine as there is no law stating that father and son cannot work together,” he said.

Vathana Sabung’s claims come as the Kingdom continues to engage in an ongoing battle with nepotism and corruption among officials.

On January 29, Transparency International’s 2018 global Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Cambodia 161 out of 180 countries, as the Kingdom was once again deemed the worst for corruption in Southeast Asia.

Cambodian government officials responded to the news by saying they cared little about the ranking, with some other observers saying the assessment was biased and politically motivated.

Meanwhile, Vong Pisen, the commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, warned against relatives serving in the same military units.

“The husband is the head of the unit and the wife is the financial director. I am afraid that the older brother is also the head of the unit and the younger brother is the financial director."

“This is wrong and I’m instructing the unit to avoid these circumstances. Even if you are honest and work perfectly, no one is going to believe you. They will say that it is nepotism. No matter how good you are, they will criticise you,” he said.

He said in the past, Cambodia did not permit relatives to work in the same government institutions, military units and schools.

“If we have children, grandchildren or relatives in our unit, we should, of course, manage and shape them to become good people. But for me, those people should work outside the unit,” he said.

Kin Phea, the director-general of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said state institutions and units in the armed forces still practice nepotism.

“The law does not state that family members and relatives cannot work together. But entering the civil service, military and police framework requires proper competition."

“If the family members of Thim Sopha enter by sitting properly for the examinations, it is not wrong. But, if they had entered service through systematic or family corruption, exploitation or collusion, that is illegal,” he stressed.

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