Interior Minister Sar Kheng yesterday called on authorities to ramp up a crackdown on illegal fishing ahead of upcoming commune elections, prompting one fisheries activist to question whether the action would continue after it ceased to be politically expedient.
In his remarks, given at a meeting at the Ministry of Interior, Kheng appeared to link success in the nationwide campaign to victory for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party at the ballot box in June.
“If the situation to handle fishing crimes is not good, more or less, it will impact the election; therefore we need to have a mission to handle the problem,” Kheng said.
“From today until the election period, there are only 47 days . . . therefore [we] we need to rally” to solve the problem, he added.
Also speaking at yesterday’s meeting, National Police chief Neth Savoeun said that he was not satisfied with the uneven results of the crackdown, which started in December. While some areas around the Tonle Sap showed decreases in illegal fishing, he said, the problem had persisted or increased in others.
Savoeun argued that the push would not prove successful until the “masterminds” behind illegal fishing in the Tonle Sap are brought to justice. Meanwhile, officials who are “involved with [the] perpetrators, they will be punished in compliance with the law”, he added.
Between December 8 and April 17, more than 700 raids were undertaken against illegal fishermen, though only 30 were sent to court, according to statistics presented at yesterday’s meeting.
Youk Senglong, the deputy executive director of Fisheries Action Coalition Team, said that anecdotal evidence suggested the crackdown was having a positive effect, but questioned whether the Interior Ministry’s commitment will carry on after the commune elections. However, he added, it was “better to wait until after the election to see” if the crackdown continues apace.
The small number of prosecutions, on the other hand, could prove a political liability, Senglong said.
“There is a connection with popularity. [Authorities think] if they send many people to court, they might mobilise many people not to vote for the CPP,” he said. However, he said, rather than an aggressive stance, it would be the lack of concrete action that hurt the ruling party in the eyes of the law-abiding public.
“The majority of the public don’t commit crimes,” he said.