Council Opts To Retain all Committees

Backtracking on earlier plans to scrap several bodies under Council of Ministers’ control, the Royal Government has opted instead to retain the Council’s many committees and authorities, several of which will now be headed by Funcinpec officials.

In coalition negotiations be­tween the CPP and Funcinpec in December, Prime Minister Hun Sen agreed to decentralize his government by eliminating some Council of Ministers bodies that duplicate or interfere with the functions of related ministries.

He announced the decision to senior officials at a meeting in late January, government officials and close advisers to the premier said at the time. But the power-sharing agreement with Funcinpec Pres­ident Prince Norodom Ra­na­riddh—a deal that more than doubled the size of the government Cabinet—apparently will allow the committees to continue operating as be­fore.

“Nothing has been eliminated,” said one official at the Council of Ministers.

The Council’s committees now are home to several former Funcinpec ministers named in the current mandate as senior ministers, including former co-Minister of Interior You Hockry and former Health Minister Hong Sun Huot.

Demands to eliminate the committees or combine them into relevant ministries stemmed from criticism that they were prone to corruption and had allowed Cabinet Minister Sok An, who chairs many of the committees, to consolidate government control.

It is unclear how many of the committees exist, or, in many cases, their exact responsibilities.

According to interviews earlier this year, Hun Sen highlighted the National Tourism Authority as one entity that could be eliminated. That authority is now headed by Fun­cinpec’s Veng Sereyvuth, the former minister of tourism, according to a Royal Sub-Decree.

Veng Sereyvuth described his new tasks Monday as coordinating “na­tional strategy and policy to attract tourism” with several relevant ministries.

“I don’t see it as overlapping with other ministries, but as a step forward,” he said.

Among other royalist senior members, You Hockry was named chairman of a committee on population and border issues; Hong Sun Huot returned to his former post as chief of the National AIDS Authority; Tao Seng Huor is head of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Develop­ment; and Khy Taing Lim is head of the National Mekong River Com­mittee.

Many of the senior ministers drawn into the Council of Ministers comprise a strong Funcinpec faction alienated in the run-up to last year’s elections as Prince Ranariddh chased down votes by presenting Funcinpec as a strong opponent of the CPP instead of its coalition partner.

In the height of Prince Ranariddh’s short-lived allegiance to opposition leader Sam Rainsy, he pledged to sweep the party of entrenched ministers whom he blamed for corruption and tarnishing the royalists’ party image.

It is unclear how much power the senior ministers will wield inside the Council of Ministers’ committees. Many of the named ministers complained in the past that the Council of Ministers committees siphoned away funds from their own projects.

However the decision is unlikely to impress donors and government critics who have pressed for more efficient public administration.

“While we hear words [of reform], we are yet to see them as deeds,” said Lao Mong Hay of the Center for Social Development.

 

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