B ELEAGUERED Public Works Minister Ing Kieth - publicly humiliated as the "worst
ever minister ever of Public Works" by opposition Premier Hun Sen in June -
is facing what amounts to a politically-driven mutiny.
This week around 100 ministerial staff, mainly Hun Sen supporters, went on strike,
demanding among other things that Kieth be sacked.
It was the Royal Government's first civil service strike since at least the UNTAC
elections, and came as Parliamentarians prepare to debate a law that, if passed,
will legalize strikes - except for public servants.
Kieth - for the first time Nov 12, the day of the strike - publicly defended the
way he has run the ministry.
He said the main problem was that Ouk Chan - the former chief of the now-bankrupt
Bridge and Road building company within the ministry - had illegally sold off "millions
of riels'" worth of machinery and had paid nothing into State coffers.
Kieth also said he had the right to restructure his own ministry, adding that the
way it was run under Hun Sen's State of Cambodia regime was no longer consistent
with current laws.
"We need to make an arrangement that appropriately corresponds to the current
laws," Kieth said.
Hun Sen, in a June speech at the CPP headquarters, plainly gave workers there a green
light to take whatever action they wanted to vent their anger.
The strikers sought job guarantees and better salaries. Carrying posters denouncing
Kieth as "old and incompetent", they demanded he be removed and that workers
he had replaced be reinstated.
"We are unhappy with the minister because he made changes in the old structure
without agreement from the Council of Ministers," said Kim Nhan, 53, an employee
of the ministry's Bridge and Road Construction company.
"We are outraged by the ignorance of the minister. He doesn't care about our
difficuties," she said.
Nhan was among 900 workers and officials who, on June 29, complained to Hun Sen that
Kieth had replaced some ministry officials.
Among those replaced was Ouk Chan, director of Bridge and Road Construction company.
That company - having previously been made financially auto-monous within the ministry
- had since become bankrupt and inactive, leaving its workers jobless.
Chan's removal prompted a fierce attack from Hun Sen who called Kieth "an old
fox and the worst public works minister in 17 years".
Kieth, who is also a deputy prime minister and a senior Funcinpec figure, this week
called Chan incompetent and corrupt.
"The bankruptcy and [subsequent] inactivity of the Bridge and Road company were
the results of Ouk Chan selling all the equipment and machinery worth hundreds of
million of riel," Kieth said.
He said Chan sold 63 pieces of machinery without proper bidding procedures and that
no money had ever been turned over to the government's coffers.
Along with several others, the company was made financially independent within the
ministry during Hun Sen's State of Cambodia era.
Kieth said that Chan should be held responsible for the company's bankrupcy and unemployment
of its workers.
"If that person is not competent in leading and securing jobs in the enterprise,
we have the right to remove him and find somebody competent to do the job,"
Differences over power-sharing have strangled the relationship between Funcinpec
Hun Sen has accused Kieth of abusing his authority in carrying out structural change
within the ministry without cabinet approval. Hun Sen has insisted that the ministry's
organizational chart left over from the old State of Cambodia regime be maintained
before a replacement is approved.
Kieth showed journalists a copy of the proclaimation creating the Ministry of Public
Works, signed by Heng Samrin who was then chairman of the Cambodian People's Revolutionary
Coucil of the CPP, in April 1980.
According to the proclamation, all duties and decisions made by the ministry were
subjected to approval of the council.
"They insist that I use this old chart. Should I submit any decision to this
council and where is it?" Kieth asked.
"We now have the Royal Government. This letter is not consistent with the Constitution,"
A new organizational chart was submitted for cabinet approval three years ago but
no decision has ever been made.
"I asked the cabinet to allow me to reorganize the ministry. If I fail to have
the right to organize a new struture in the ministry, the cabinet is responsible
for that," Kieth said.