With the ruling CPP in the midst of an effort to improve public services and implement key reforms ahead of next year’s commune elections, Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday ordered two of his cabinet ministers to improve their work or risk being sacked.
Speaking at the annual meeting of the Interior Ministry in Phnom Penh, Mr. Hun Sen said he would consider reshuffling his cabinet soon and begin issuing public rankings of ministries’ performance. He singled out Public Works Minister Tram Iv Tek for a particularly blistering critique.
“I don’t know how to say this, but the Ministry of Public Works is a ministry that is much slower than other ministries,” he said. “Very slow. This is the truth.”
Mr. Hun Sen cited a recent cabinet meeting during which Mr. Iv Tek apparently sparred with Phnom Penh municipal governor Pa Socheatvong over who was responsible for maintaining the city’s roads.
“This ministry does not work. To blame each other about city roads at a Council of Ministers meeting, which roads Public Works is responsible for and which roads City Hall is responsible for? Pa Socheatvong: Don’t care about the Minis-try of Public Works. Please do it yourself.”
Although Mr. Hun Sen reserved his harshest words for Mr. Iv Tek, he said Agriculture Minister Ouk Rabun was nearly as bad.
“Today, when I was having lunch, I ranked the ministries from A, B, C to F, and F is the Ministry of Public Works, as well as Ouk Rabun. The Ministry of Agriculture reaches rank F—very slow,” he said.
“I think I will announce the ministries’ rankings—number 1, 2 and 3…. If I don’t announce it in this way, it won’t affect their work,” he added.
After the CPP nearly lost the 2013 national election to an insurgent CNRP, which ran on a platform promising extensive institutional reform, Mr. Hun Sen gave a six-hour speech exhorting his top officials to prepare for increased public scrutiny, using the metaphor of a person taking a bath.
“First, you need to use a mirror to look at yourself. Second, you have to take a bath to clean your body. Third, you have to scrub your body while bathing if it is plagued by dirty things. Fourth, you have to heal your disease,” he said at the time.
On Thursday, he said that some ministers had not yet managed to heal themselves.
“[We] gave them several years to take a bath, look in the mirror and clean their bodies. Now is the time to treat the disease,” he said.
“I am wondering whether I should reshuffle the cabinet this year or not. I am wondering because if we keep too many like this, it will make me die.”
“Friends among friends are dangerous to me,” he said, using a Khmer expression that refers to cronyism.
Clarification: In a previous version of this article, the grade given to the ministries of public works and agriculture by Prime Minister Hun Sen was written as S, due to the prime minister’s unclear pronunciation of the letter F.