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PM gives ministers an 'F', lashes out at illegal logging task force

Prime Minister Hun Sen cuts a ribbon during the inauguration ceremony of the new Ministry of Environment building in central Phnom Penh yesterday. Photo supplied
Prime Minister Hun Sen cuts a ribbon during the inauguration ceremony of the new Ministry of Environment building in central Phnom Penh yesterday. Photo supplied

PM gives ministers an 'F', lashes out at illegal logging task force

Prime Minister Hun Sen unleashed a tirade against underperforming government officials in a pair of speeches yesterday – musing aloud about reshuffling his Council of Ministers and wondering why rockets had not yet been deployed in the Kingdom’s recent “crackdown” on illegal logging.

Speaking at the grand opening of the Ministry of Environment’s new headquarters, the premier singled out the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation, saying their performances rated an “F”.

“I say that the slowest ministry is the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation. Their work is supposed to be the fastest, but it became the slowest,” Hun Sen said. “It seems that this ministry does not work. How can I tolerate you when you are so slow?”

The ministry has been lax in cracking down on transportation companies that violate the law, slow at issuing plates and driver’s licences and generally ineffective at its other duties, he added, before turning his attention to the Ministry of Agriculture.

“Now I speak frankly – you, [Minister of Agriculture Ouk Rabun] get an F. You are too slow.”

Rabun unsurprisingly yesterday pledged to step up his efforts to improve the ministry’s performance.

“It is an honour that Samdech Techo [two of the prime minister’s many honorifics] recommended this personally, and we will do our best to become more active.”

Public Works spokesman Ma Senghuot also promised to take action to solve problems faster “based on the prime minister’s recommendation”.

Kem Ley, a social researcher and grassroots political activist, welcomed the news, saying that the ministries need fresh faces and a new, transparent culture.

The premier also blasted the Ministry of Justice and law enforcement officials for the unabated wave of violent crime and recidivism throughout the country, saying he would order police and armed forces to better control their weapons, which keep ending up in the hands of criminals.

He went on to complain that “the same faces” keep coming up in robbery and drug-trafficking arrests, a topic he previously railed on in a December speech, which prompted the Justice Ministry at the time to pledge to keep those guilty of “serious” offences ineligible for pardons.

“The Ministry of Justice has to undertake serious work on this issue, and the prison directors must keep track of whether the [prisoners] have been charged yet and why they are released so easily,” Hun Sen said yesterday.

He added that from now on, any applications for royal pardons must contain a detailed list of the prisoners’ convictions, something that doesn’t currently happen.

Earlier in the day, speaking at the Ministry of Environment, the prime minister took aim at the anti-logging commission created last month – a body decried by some activists as simply providing cover for a reshuffling of the Kingdom’s expansive illegal timber trade – saying they should be more aggressive in their pursuit of loggers.

He then offered a helpful tip to committee director Sao Sokha, saying he should blast timber traders with rockets from a helicopter.

“I gave two helicopters to Sao Sokha, who has not taken a single shot,” Hun Sen complained. “Take the shot from above – it is not that complex.”

Committee spokesman Eng Hy said that there had been no reason to fire rockets to date, as no loggers have shot at the authorities during the latest crackdowns.

(In fact, former Mondulkiri military police officer Sou Marith was accused of firing on authorities earlier this month after they chased a car carrying timber to his home, but escaped while authorities awaited a warrant.)

Hy added that forestry crimes have decreased since the formation of the committee.

Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay yesterday said that the premier’s tough talk on the issue does not change the fact that the government has been sheltering some of the biggest loggers in the country.

Additional reporting by Igor Kossov

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