Interior Minister Sar Kheng yesterday blasted Ratanakkiri Provincial Governor Thong Savon for falsely using him as an alibi to explain why he could not meet with four ministers that Prime Minister Hun Sen sent to the northeastern province last week.
Speaking at a meeting on road safety in Phnom Penh, Kheng said he was surprised to learn that a meeting he purportedly held with Savon on Thursday had prevented the governor from meeting the four ministers, explaining that he could not recall the meeting.
“Recently, I have not had a meeting with the provincial governor, but he claimed he was busy meeting with me on the day when the ministers went to the province to find solutions for indigenous people,” Kheng said.
Savon was meant to meet with Land Management Minister Chea Sophara, Environment Minister Say Samal, Agriculture Minister Veng Sakhon and Rural Development Minister Ouk Rabun, who were on a three-province tour ordered by Hun Sen.
The other two governors did not miss their meetings, and Kheng suggested Savon may have been avoiding his job and had created the alibi as an excuse not to meet the ministers, who had travelled more than 500 kilometres from Phnom Penh to meet him.
“Why did he lie like this? It’s illegal,” Kheng said.
Savon could not be reached for comment. However, Ngem Sam Ouen, the spokesman for Ratanakkiri province, said the governor had himself been travelling back to the province from Phnom Penh on Thursday. He otherwise declined to comment.
The only one of the four ministers who could be reached yesterday, Sam Al, declined to comment on the governor missing the meeting, but said the trip had come from a request from the governor of neighbouring Mondulkiri province’s Koh Nhek district.
Hun Sen, he said, appointed the four to visit Ratanakkiri, Mondulkiri and Stung Treng to inspect issues of land registration, the status of ethnic minorities and the settlement of protected areas.
Land Management Ministry spokesman Seng Lot could not be reached for comment. However, his ministry posted on Facebook on Thursday that the delegation of ministers had met with 66 families in Koh Nhek as part of the trip and promised to expedite their efforts to get land titles during the trip.
Chhay Thy, a coordinator for rights group Adhoc in Ratanakkiri, said indigenous people there continue to experience many issues with the government’s system of land registration and land concessions, and he was baffled as to why the governor missed the meeting.
“The local authorities always come to find solutions for them, but we don’t know why the governor didn’t join the ministers,” Thi said. “Maybe he was busy with something.”