A senior adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen, responding to reports that two fishing lots were given to the Senate, says Cambodia’s legislature is leaning too heavily on the government for financial gain.
“It is hard work when legislative organizations interfere with the internal affairs of the executive branch,” the adviser, who requested anonymity, said.
“The government could not say no to the legislature…the government does not want to provide it [with fishing lots] but there is no way not to,” he said.
Ministry of Agriculture officials acknowledged this week that two fishing lots in Kompong Thom province were given in September to the Senate, which asked for them after learning of five lots given to the National Assembly after lawmakers the 1998 election.
In both cases, government officials say the lots were rented out to businessmen and the money received from them are to go toward work on parliamentary buildings. Critics blasted the handover, saying the legislature has no right delving into the private sector and that the business dealings could unfairly influence lawmakers.
“National Assembly members and Senators are considered by the people to be their representatives, but when they have [fishing lots] it is affecting people’s businesses,” said Chea Vannath, president of the Center for Social Development.
But others point out that the fishing lots are not owned by the legislature and don’t present a conflict of interest. Rather, individual lawmakers have merely facilitated lot ownership for private businessmen, according to Chea Son, the cabinet chief for CPP President Chea Sim.
“[Lawmakers] got some benefits or compensation for their intervention,” Chea Son said.
“Some ministry and government officials have done like this as well—you would get something from [businessmen] when you helped them,” he explained.
Chea Son said he found nothing wrong with the transaction because the lots were granted by the government and “if the government did not agree to do this we would not take [money for the lots].”
Before the Senate was given the lots, a businessman said he would give the Senate $100,000 to lease the lots for the six-year term, according to a Senate document. After the Senate received the lots, the businessman decreased his price to $40,000 which prompted the committee to recommend that the Senate look elsewhere.
The committee recommended that the Senate accept an offer of $120,000 for the six-year term offered by another businessman.
This leasing of fishing lots comes at a time when Hun Sen is calling for more fishing space to be taken out of the hands of businesses and turned over to local fishermen who are dependent on the waters for their livelihood.
Fishermen are increasingly complaining that private lot owners are pushing them toward starvation by refusing them access to the water, despite a government regulation stating that at least part of every fishing lot remain open to the public.