Minister of Interior Sar Kheng on Thursday ordered national working groups to pay attention to people’s concerns during their missions to the provinces and not just sit in the meetings and go back home, wasting time and petrol.
Sar Kheng is also Acting Prime Minister during Prime Minister Hun Sen’s visit to Hungary from Thursday to Saturday to attend the fifth Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia.
“The national working groups must not just sit and listen in their meetings, return home to Phnom Penh, and then go back to the next meeting and do the same thing."
“I ask: ‘Is doing this a waste or a success?’ I think commuting back and forth like this is nothing but a waste of time and petrol."
“It is also a waste because they are away from their work at the ministries. But maybe it’s good for some people who want to take the opportunity to do something else. Change your ways. Now!” he said while presiding over a swearing-in ceremony for newly elected provincial councillors in Prey Veng province.
Sar Kheng also ordered Cambodian People’s Party working groups who meet people every weekend to listen carefully to their requests.
He said people who attend public forums lean towards the opposition, and they can be expected to put pressure on officials. But all officials, he said, should solve fellow citizens’ problems regardless of political tendencies.
“Therefore, before your excellencies, ladies and gentlemen go to a meeting, remember you are going to a public forum to collect information and come back to make recommendations."
“Then you will identify new problems to be solved. We must not be complacent and become careless,” Sar Kheng said.
He had made similar remarks while presiding over a swearing-in ceremony for Phnom Penh municipal councillors on Wednesday.
Sar Kheng told government officials to be willing to listen to criticism, not just flattery. He said solving people’s problems is a way to secure stability.
“When we listen to criticism, it helps us a lot. Flattery is just flattery, nothing more than that. It may even encourage us to go down the wrong path,” he said, adding that a public forum should be organised in a simple way so that people could bravely express their opinions.
Royal Academy of Cambodia president Sok Touch applauded Sar Kheng words and said such ideas should have been implemented a long time ago.
Touch said government officials going to meet community people was a way to connect themselves with the people.
Rather than just listening to people’s concerns, he said, officials should add their own knowledge and lay out strategies to solve particular problems.
Touch said that through his research, he had seen four countries that had successfully applied such ideas – Japan, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam.
“Sometimes, people don’t see the problems. But people who visit local communities with knowledge and experience see what needs addressing. They are there to provide helpful ideas, strategies and vision to the people,” Touch said.
Social analyst Meas Nee also welcomed Sar Kheng’s remarks, saying the interior minister had learned a great deal about the government officials’ trips to local communities.
Nee claimed that officials seemed to use the opportunity to preach about the party, rather than listening to people’s concerns.
Sometimes, he said, they just bring official words from government leaders down to the people, without addressing policies for development.
“Sometimes meeting the people is just treated as a chance to remind them of the party’s principles, rather than to learn anything."
“We accept that they have provided a lot of humanitarian assistance, but most of those who go to meet community people are there to strengthen their party, not to listen to people’s concerns, and they don’t give people the opportunity to speak,” Nee said.
He said that while Sar Kheng’s instructions to listen to criticism should be welcomed, this new culture should really be practised, not just talked about.
In the Cambodian political context, he said, criticism was normally regarded as a negative word.
“I think if we can engender a culture of openness, people will not be scared to speak to the government about their concerns, and the government can solve those problems, be they social or political,” Nee said.