Two sons of Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) Chairman Om Yentieng have been appointed as assistants to the government graft-fighting body, sparking accusations of nepotism within the very institution meant to stamp out such practices.
A royal decree signed by King Norodom Sihamoni on Saturday names Yentieng Puthira and Yentieng Puthirith as two of eighteen new assistants assigned to the ACU, with ranks equal to undersecretary and secretary of state, respectively, effective immediately.
The appointments were requested by Prime Minister Hun Sen, who on Friday also signed off on a separate sub-decree assigning six lower-ranking assistants to the unit.
Mr. Yentieng declined to speak with a reporter on Tuesday, and ACU spokesman Keo Remy could not be reached. Nov Ra, an official in the prime minister’s cabinet, referred a request for comment back to the ACU.
Top Sam, the chairman of the National Anti-Corruption Council, which oversees the ACU, would not discuss the appointment of Mr. Yentieng’s sons but defended the appointment of assistants in general.
“Please look at all the units. It is not only the Anti-Corruption Unit that makes appointments. Other units make appointments, too,” he said, before hanging up on a reporter.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said it was only natural for the ruling party to appoint the children of its own members.
“It is normal,” Mr. Eysan said of the appointment of Mr. Yentieng’s sons.
“The CPP is the ruling party and has never appointed the children of the CNRP,” he said. “The CPP must appoint the youth of the CPP because we cannot appoint the youth of another party.”
The spokesman’s comments amount to an admission of political discrimination. But he denied any hint of nepotism and rejected the suggestion that the appointments might sully the ACU’s image.
“It is not nepotism,” he said. “It can only be nepotism if the people who are appointed have no knowledge. But [Mr. Yentieng’s sons] have the ability to do the work.”
The royal decree appointing Mr. Yentieng’s scions to his own unit does not describe their qualifications for the jobs or what aspects of corruption they will be advising their father on.
The brothers have apparently been riding on their father’s coattails for years.
According to a 2009 U.S. State Department cable released by the anti-secrecy organization Wikileaks, Mr. Puthira and Mr. Puthirith, ranking officers in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, are both department directors for the National Counter-Terrorism Committee. The same cable names Mr. Yentieng as a deputy director of the committee’s secretariat.
San Chey, country director for the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, a good governance advocacy group, said their latest appointments would certainly dam-age the ACU’s image, especially amid a shakeup of the prime minister’s cabinet.
“It is not a good picture for the Anti-Corruption Unit now while the other ministries are under reform and while [Mr. Yentieng] gives advice to the other ministries,” he said. “It is a kind of nepotism.”
Mr. Chey said the appointments also had to be considered against the backdrop of a high-profile ACU investigation into CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha that looks to many like a politically motivated attack on the opposition.
“The public may decrease their trust in the ACU,” he said of the appointments. “Especially now that they are investigating the vice president of the CNRP, the public is looking purposefully into the ACU; they are looking at it very carefully.”
Kem Ley, whose Khmer for Khmer network advocates for a more democratic and transparent government, said the ACU had a moral obligation, if not a legal duty, to be more open about the qualifications of its staff.
He said the appointment of Mr. Yentieng’s sons would only deepen an already entrenched impression of nepotism and corruption within the CPP and of a government in which familial connections trump formal qualifications.
“Even if they are highly qualified, they cannot find a job if they do not have the right bloodline,” he said. “This has become the culture of nepotism, and the family institutions have been hardening within the current mandate. It is one kind of corruption.”