The government has removed Funcinpec’s popular Tourism Minister Lay Prohas, government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith announced Wednesday, adding that the ruling CPP has finished its official power-sharing agreement with its royalist coalition partner.
Khieu Kanharith declined to explain exactly why Lay Prohas had been singled out for removal, saying only: “It is a simple reshuffle.”
CPP Tourism Ministry Secretary of State Thong Khon will serve as acting tourism minister until the National Assembly can formally approve his promotion, Khieu Kanharith said.
Lay Prohas and Thong Khon could not be reached for comment.
Prime Minister Hun Sen removed Lay Prohas on Tuesday, transferring him to an as-yet-unspecified post, Funcinpec spokesman Nouv Sovathero said.
“We are sad to lose the position,” he said. “The prime minister is responsible before the government. He needs qualified officials,” Nouv Sovathero added.
Lay Prohas, who was appointed in 2004, presided over the ministry at a time when the country experienced a steady surge in the numbers of tourists visiting Cambodia.
Cambodia’s tourism sector in 2006 posted sharp gains for the third straight year, with tourist arrivals 20 percent higher than in 2005, the Tourism Ministry announced in January.
During 2006, 1.7 million tourists visited Cambodia, pumping $1.4 billion into the country’s economy—a figure equivalent to 12 percent of the GDP, Thong Khon said at the time.
“Lay Prohas is very impressive. He is the best among the former ministers,” Moeung Sonn, director of the National Association of Tourism Enterprise and head of the Eurasie Travel Agency, said Wednesday.
“I do not know the abilities of Thong Khon. The reshuffle was a political problem,” he said.
Ho Vandy, president of the Cambodian Association of Travel Agencies, also spoke highly of the former minister’s work.
“So far, Lay Prohas has done a good job,” he said, adding that the ministry is generally receptive to suggestions from the private sector.
Funcinpec Secretary-General Nhiek Bun Chhay declined comment on Lay Prohas’ removal, but said Hun Sen has the right to remove officials if he feels they are not working properly.
Before the formation of the current government in 2004, which on paper is a coalition between the CPP and Funcinpec, the CPP agreed to the royalist party holding 40 percent of government posts, Nhiek Bun Chhay said.
This agreement no longer stands, he said.
“No one can blame me [for Lay Prohas’ removal], I don’t have any influence over the CPP,” Nhiek Bun Chhay said. “We have no right to complain.”
Khieu Kanharith said that the power-sharing agreement with Funcinpec ended long ago, ever since Hun Sen removed a swathe of senior Funcinpec government officials last year.
Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said Lay Prohas’ removal was another step in the CCP’s consolidation of power over the country’s most lucrative ministries.
Since 2004, Funcinpec has lost ministerial positions at the Labor, Defense and Interior ministries.
Funcinpec officials now head just seven of Cambodia’s 25 ministries: Cults and Religion, Education, Health, Women’s Affairs, Public Works and Transport, Culture, and Rural Development.