Minister of Interior Sar Kheng has advised provincial administrations to heed the opinions and comments of their local residents and study the experiences of other governors such as Mao Thonin – the former governor of Pursat province who recently took up the post of Kampot governor – in order to find ways to effectively solve problems outside of the courts.
Sar Kheng made the remarks on October 11 while presiding over the inauguration of the new governor of Battambang province, Sok Lou. Lou traded places with his predecessor Nguon Ratanak who now takes up the office that the former just vacated as governor of Kampong Thom province.
“I would like to make a few suggestions: Extra-judicial settlement mechanisms are one way to deal with problems that we need to pay more attention to. In the past, I created a Facebook account with an intake-team to field requests and complaints from our people,” he said.
“Speaking generally, we can plainly see that the results are good. There are about 1,000 cases that we’ve opened files on and many of those have already been resolved, although we have not yet fully resolved all of them,” he added.
Sar Kheng said the reason why they needed to find effective ways to solve people’s problems outside of the courts system wasn’t out of distrust of the provincial courts administration or due to any concerns about corruption or abuses but rather a question of practicality and how to make the best use of the courts’ limited resources by reserving their use only for the most serious matters.
“Sometimes we encounter problems that seemingly can’t be solved anywhere with an outcome that is truly fair, but if we can’t solve these problems the traditional way then we have to look for another method.
“We need to be open to taking criticism and listening to the opinions, ideas and comments of the people whom we serve. We should also consider taking a close look in the mirror at ourselves and our conduct more often when private citizens dare to speak out on important issues to us in a constructive way,” Sar Kheng explained.
Sar Kheng said that newly-appointed Kampot governor Thonin had found ways to solve problems for the people of Pursat very effectively and that all of the provincial governors could learn valuable lessons from him by examining his experiences there.
“We don’t want to leave our people uncertain about whether their problem is actually going to be solved on site or through the regular hierarchical channels. Doubts become an open door for them to wander through to file official complaints. And sometimes they complain to [Hun Sen] and then he has to spend his time on striving for some practical solution for their problem,” he said.
Sar Kheng advised all sub-national officials that they should never attempt to cover-up problems instead of sincerely dealing with them to find ways to solve them and they must always allow people to honestly express themselves and make comments in a constructive manner.
He noted that this was an important part of the process of seeking justice for aggrieved citizens because even if they do not get their preferred solution they will at least know that they were accorded the respect of having their side of things fully heard-out by their leaders.
Rights group Adhoc’s spokesman Soeng Sen Karuna observed that the former Pursat governor’s creative methods for solving problems outside of the courts was largely an anomaly when taking into consideration the typical past practices of Cambodia’s provincial governors.
“I understand that he’s advising them to avoid double standards or the unequal administration of justice. That often is the result of the provincial administration’s wilfully ignoring the problems people are having within their jurisdictions. That’s why some cases are mired in prolonged delays that leave the victims waiting on the courts interminably,” he said.
He added that Thonin had solved small problems outside of the court system in Pursat but nothing really serious like the land disputes between the poor and the wealthy, while acknowledging that this practice could help free up the courts to deal with more serious matters when the courts actually intend to do so.
“We want to see a solution to the big civil disputes and land issues. These issues fundamentally affect the rights and welfare of the people who risk losing everything if their land is encroached on by powerful tycoons or business interests. That’s where the focus should be rather than on smaller matters,” Karuna said.