PM Names Ministers in Cabinet Shakeup

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday revealed the names of the ministers who will be changing jobs in a cabinet reshuffle expected to be approved by ruling-party lawmakers early next month.

The reshuffle follows a speech late last month in which the prime minister publicly warned certain senior officials to improve their performance or risk being fired. However, the bulk of the ministries set to change hands are simply being taken over by other ministers in what a prominent political analyst described as a move meant to “give the appearance of reform.”

Eight ministerial changes have been put forward in the proposed shakeup, details of which were sent to the National Assembly in a letter signed by Mr. Hun Sen on Wednesday and posted to the premier’s Facebook page on Friday.

Assembly spokesman Leng Peng Long said the changes would be reviewed by the Permanent Committee on March 30 and voted on by CPP lawmakers on April 4.

According to the letter, Deputy Prime Minister Keat Chhon, long-serving Foreign Minister Hor Namhong and Land Management Minister Im Chhun Lim are all set to retire.

Mr. Namhong’s position will be taken over by Prak Sokhon, the current posts and telecommunications minister, who will be replaced by Transport Minister Tram Iv Tek. Commerce Minister Sun Chanthol will take the helm of the Transport Ministry; his position will be assumed by Pan Sorasok, a secretary of state at the Commerce Ministry.

Other top-level changes are due at the ministries of land management, agriculture, rural affairs and religion. The retiring Mr. Chhun Lim will hand the land management mantle to Rural Affairs Minister Chea Sophara, who in turn will be replaced by Agriculture Minister Ouk Rabun, the agriculture minister. Veng Sakhon, a secretary of state at the Water Resources Ministry, will be the new agriculture minister.

Cults and Religion Minister Min Khin will switch positions with Him Chhem, a senior minister in charge of special missions. Im Suosdey, who headed the National Election Committee until it was overhauled last year, will become a secretary of state at the Interior Ministry.

A total of 24 changes are laid out in the proposal from Mr. Hun Sen, which is all but certain to be approved by CPP lawmakers next month. On Thursday, Mr. Hun Sen said he had put together the proposal in private.

“Yesterday, nobody knew that I wrote and stamped and registered the number [of the letter] from home and sent it straight to the National Assembly,” he said during a speech at a graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh.

The prime minister warned of a cabinet reshuffle last month when, in a public speech, he singled out Mr. Iv Tek, the transport minister, and Mr. Rabun, the agriculture minister, for their poor performance. He gave both ministries an unofficial F-grade for being “very slow.”

On Friday, however, CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said none of the proposed changes should be considered promotions or demotions, claiming that all reshuffled officials were happy with their new positions.

“The CPP has no culture of disappointment at being rotated or appointed,” he said.

Ou Virak, a political analyst and head of the Future Forum think tank, said he welcomed the reshuffle—if only because the future performance of various ministries “couldn’t be worse than what we have.”

“I think that’s the thinking of the Cambodian public anyway,” he said. “I think most people will just look at it and say, ‘Oh, it couldn’t be worse.’”

Mr. Virak described the reshuffle as “a lot of moving around” meant only to give “the appearance of reform.”

“This is not that unusual. This has happened in the past where Hun Sen and the CPP…don’t want to appear as if they are breaking up or punishing people,” he said.

The reality, Mr. Virak said, is that loyal members of the CPP are being rewarded with sought-after positions, while both Mr. Iv Tek and Mr. Rabun would be overseeing much smaller ministries. He added that the activities of many ministries were so minimal that their very existence was unnecessary.

“Nobody seems to know the mandate of each of the ministries. And nobody seems to know who is doing what and what kind of job they are responsible for. And think that’s actually why the government has not been very effective,” he said.

“They could just close the Ministry of Rural Development and the Ministry of Water Resources…and nobody will ever notice,” he said. “They can close about 10, 15 ministries and nobody will really care.”

(Additional reporting by Ben Woods)

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