The Ministry of Interior has requested the government award 12 new people oknha status for spending a total of nearly $50 million on public infrastructure last year, according to the ministry’s annual report.
The report, published on Wednesday, indicates the 12 people spent about $49.5 million, for which they will be bestowed with the honorary title, which translates roughly to “tycoon”. The ministry also requested the government to give 3,233 national medals to others who had invested in public services.
Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, said most oknhas spent about $500,000 to receive the title, which is the minimum required by law. “But for these 12 people, they spent this amount,” he said of the much larger figure. “They just go to the provinces and build their achievement, like building a pagoda, a pagoda hall or roads.” He also noted one person could receive more than one national medal.
A new sub-decree issued last year raised the minimum investment required to become an oknha from $100,000 to $500,000. According to estimates, at least 700 people held the title in 2017, compared to about five before 1975.
Astrid Noren-Nilsson, an expert on Cambodian politics at Lund University, said the title served to strengthen ties between politicians and the rich.
“The ‘oknha’ title is important as it means the institutionalisation of a reciprocal relationship between the Cambodian political and business elites,” she said in an email. “In return for loyalty and donations to the government, the oknhas can count on protection and favours. This cements elite cohesion.”
Additional reporting by Leonie Kijewski