Interior Minister Sar Kheng presided yesterday over the transfer ceremony of outgoing Stung Treng provincial governor Kol Sam Ol, who is being transferred to a job within the Ministry of Interior in Phnom Penh.
In his remarks at the ceremony, Kheng reportedly called on provincial authorities to work harder, particularly in shutting down drug-trafficking corridors across the shared border with Laos, one area in which a local observer said the former governor had performed poorly.
Hou Sam Ol, provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, allowed that the outgoing governor had “positive points” in developing the province’s infrastructure, but noted a less successful record elsewhere.
“He allowed the Try Pheap company to transport wood,” he said, referring to the logging magnate he accused of contributing to deforestation in the province.
“There was a lot of trafficking of drugs and illegal logging and some gangsters; he [Kol Sam Ol] bore this blame because he was incapable . . . His crackdown was limited,” Hou Sam Sol said.
Indeed, several recent large drug busts were linked to cross-border trafficking through Stung Treng, most notably a nearly 55 kilogram methamphetamine and heroin drug haul in the capital believed to have been brought through the province.
When reached by phone yesterday, however, former governor Kol Sam Ol defended his record, saying he had worked hard and “improved infrastructure in cities such as streets, roads and bridges . . . We have made a lot of changes.”
The former governor went on to shift blame for logging and drug trafficking to national authorities.
“For the forest, it was not the provincial authorities’ responsibility, but it was the Ministry of Agriculture and the Forestry Administration who are in charge . . . And for the drugs, it was the same thing – military police and police [are responsible],” he said.
However, Eang Sophallet, spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, held that provincial governors do have the ability – via authority conferred by government sub-decree 156 – to order ministry officials to crack down on illegal activities.
“If he is saying that it is the responsibility of the Forestry Administration, then he must have forgotten what the prime minister said earlier this year . . . that the governor must be responsible in accordance with sub-decree 156,” he said. “If you are a government official, you cannot compromise with illegal activities”.
National military police spokesman Eng Hy declined to comment, saying the former governor was entitled to his opinions.
The outgoing governor also noted the sub-decree, saying that in spite of his best efforts, officials of various ministries did not always follow orders, and there was little he could do besides “leading compromise”.
“If they [ministry officials] listen, they would take [orders]; if they do not listen, they would not take it – we cannot do anything with them,” he said, adding that he welcomed the opportunity to hand the reins to his successor.
The new governor, Mom Saroeun, declined comment, citing a busy schedule.
Kol Sam Ol said he did not know what his new position at the Interior Ministry would be, and a ministry spokesman could not be reached for comment.