Prime Minister Hun Sen hit back at critics who he said mocked Yang Saing Koma, former chair of the board of the Grassroots Democratic Party (GDP), for joining the government to share his agricultural expertise in the field of rice production.

Saing Koma left the GDP last month and has since been appointed as Minister Delegate Attached to the Prime Minister and secretary of state for the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

While addressing about 2,000 Cambodians in Brussels, Belgium, on December 12, Hun Sen stressed the importance of teamwork, regardless of their political affiliations and backgrounds.

“Saing Koma joined the government to help rice producers, and received nothing but criticism. Do these analysts not understand how teams work?” said the premier, who is in the Belgian capital for the December 14 ASEAN-EU Commemorative Summit.

Hun Sen’s remarks apparently referred to US-based political commentator Kim Sok, who said the government must be incapable of developing the Kingdom’s agricultural sector if it needs the help of Saing Koma.

“If Hun Sen follows Saing Koma’s plan and it is successful, it suggests that those who have been leading the country for more than 40 years know nothing about agriculture,” Sok told online media outlet The Cambodia Daily on November 28.

He questioned whether Hun Sen would implement the project if it affected the interests of the ruling party or any faction that he said was taking advantage of the agricultural sector.

Hun Sen defended his decision, comparing his appointment of Saing Koma to the leadership style of Keisuke Honda, coach of the Cambodian football team.

“We recruit the most intelligent of all the people who are able to work as a team. Please look at the national football team. Cambodia is coached by a Japanese coach,” he said, noting that Honda is famous for his insistence on teamwork.

“He [Honda] has no time for players who will not pass the ball. One person trying to score a goal on his own rarely succeeds, where as several working together cannot be stopped.

Saing Koma, who obtained a PhD from a top German university, did not bother responding to his critics, saying he had chosen to join the ruling Cambodian People’s Party so he could use his knowledge and experience to help the Kingdom’s farmers.

“I am not gaining any personal benefits from my role. I have accepted the posts … as this is the best way for me to share my ideas and strategies to promote the rice sector,” he told The Post.

“I want to increase the competitiveness of the Cambodian rice sector and improve farmers’ livelihoods, while improving food security and environmental sustainability. I believe we can boost yields while reducing costs,” he said.

Saing Koma, who set out a 12-point principle on the issue of Cambodian rice after applying to join with the government, was determined to achieve fruitful results in his first 100 days.

“I have to work hard and make a good start at the ministry. Today is my second day and I am pursuing my plan, step-by-step,” he added.