Expressing both awe and resentment, many Funcinpec officials say Minister of Cabinet Sok An runs the government like a Hindu god of 48 arms.
Under his intensive management, the CPP-dominated Council of Ministers has grown into the government’s core, with dozens of authorities, committees and commissions in its orbit.
And as the Council of Ministers enlarged, the coalition’s royalist partner was pushed to the sidelines, many say.
Not only are the number and functions of the authorities and committees unclear, so are their composition. Some government officials said there were likely between 25 to 50 of them, involved in everything from electricity to national elections.
Sok An is known to chair many of them, including the most high-profile and influential.
“We have seen more than a decade of consolidation and expansion, creating these committees and authorities to take power out of the ministries,” one political analyst said of the Council of Ministers. “Funcinpec is now waking up and thinking, what have we allowed to happen these last 10 years?”
The senior minister heads the committee to demobilize soldiers; the council for public administrative reform; the petroleum authority; the national authority on technology development; and the task force on a Khmer Rouge tribunal, among others.
“There are many things
Sok An has control of and has created, in nearly every ministry,” said opposition parliamentar-
ian Son Chhay. “He seems to control every sector of the government.
“Any investment, any decision…has to be agreed upon by Sok An. Its very scary to us as a party, if we are going to be involved in forming a new government,” he said.
Meeting a key Funcinpec demand in negotiating the next government, Prime Minister Hun Sen agreed to dissolve some of the authorities at a December session with royalist Senator Nhiek Bun Chhay. Funcinpec hopes the move will hedge the Council of Ministers’ expansion, empower the ministries and lead to true power-sharing.
According to an adviser close to Hun Sen, some authorities could be folded into the ministries, and others will remain untouched.
“Some of the [authorities] are useless…. They already have authorities in the concerned ministries,” Prak Sokhonn, who is also secretary-general of the Royal Government, quoted the premier as saying.
But despite Hun Sen’s verbal order, Funcinpec and opposition members—as well as donors—are holding their praise until it is clear which authorities Hun Sen and Sok An might ax. Donors have pressed for the cancellation of many of the Council’s authorities and committees for the sake of government efficiency.
Several officials at the Council of Ministers declined to release a list of smaller bodies under its control and who heads them. Sok An said he was too busy for comment when contacted by phone, and Council of Ministers spokesman Khieu Thavika did not take phone calls. He shooed away a reporter who arrived at his office.
But Prak Sokhonn said the National Tourism Authority has been fingered by many, including Hun Sen, as the perfect example of a functionless body that duplicates a ministry’s mission.
“If we do not have the Authority, it is OK,” acknowledged Thong Khon, a CPP secretary of state at the Tourism Ministry. “If you are talking about a tourism board [inside the ministry], maybe it is better.”
In addition to overlapping with ministry duties, some bodies have run into money troubles.
The demobilization program, for example, came under scrutiny after the World Bank last year declared misprocurement on a government contract and froze its funding for the program.
In October, the National AIDS Authority got the lowest grade possible from a private financial consultancy firm which was investigating how to disburse a $22 million grant from Britain.
KPMG Cambodia Ltd determined that the AIDS Authority was inept in key areas of financial management. In contrast, the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STDs, which operates under the Health Ministry, received a top score in the assessment.
The AIDS Authority was once headed by Funcinpec Health Minister Hong Sun Huot, but his duties were transferred last year to the ministry’s CPP secretary of state, Mam Bun Heng.
Hong Sun Huot declined to talk about the authority or his ministry when contacted by phone last month, but royalist Minister of Rural Development Ly Thuch was outspoken in his support for eliminating many authorities or folding them into the ministry.
“We should not create committees for the sake of committees. We should not create these bodies that overlap with the ministries,” said Ly Thuch, whose ministry often competes for projects with the National Committee on Rural Development.
“There is a lot of [power] in the hands of a few people at the Council of Ministers…. If it concerns rural development, it should be the minister who is the boss. Why do you employ some 2,000 people at this ministry? Give us the work,” Ly Thuch said.
Funcinpec officials have often voiced that feeling of helplessness. In its partnership with the CPP during two government mandates, the royalist party has seen its power and popularity dwindle.
But the political analyst said Funcinpec’s failings, even in ministries nominally controlled by the party, were due in large part to weak leadership. Only a few of its ministers have shown the ability or willingness to stop the Council of Ministers’ expansion, or to take the lead within their own ministries, he said.
“You can’t just blame Sok An and the CPP. Funcinpec is also to blame, and it starts at the highest level of leadership,” the analyst said.