Prime Minister Hun Sen said in a speech Saturday in Svay Rieng province that poverty could be reduced only by pragmatic development projects and not by democracy and human rights forums.
He also said that politicking and false reports from government officials made poverty worse.
“Only practical development will reduce poverty,” Hun Sen said. “Forums on democracy, human rights and such, it won’t make poverty fly away from us. Listening to that stuff is a waste of time.”
What can human rights do for the sick, he asked, who cannot eat and are about to die?
Hun Sen also lashed out at “10-leg officials”—two legs for the official, two for his mistress, two for his bodyguard and four for his vehicle—who go only to villages that are easy to reach by car.
He nonetheless claimed that officials from his own party, the CPP, have “two legs” and can go to any remote area on their own.
Hun Sen also said officials who write “fake reports” that are designed to get them “letters of recommendation” did not fool him
Opposition parliamentarian Yim Sovann said officials are afraid to report the truth.
“There is discrimination inside the civil service administration,” he charged. “Anyone who reports bad news to the prime minister—they think they are criticizing the government and they fire them.”
Hun Sen said that poor families were themselves partly to blame for their difficult circumstances. Gambling, an aversion to hard work and a devotion to politics may have led to their hard times, he said.
“Some families get poorer and poorer because of politics,” the premier claimed. “They sold their rice field to help political parties.”
Hun Sen also boasted that he would resign if he did not believe poverty was declining.
“If people went from having cars, to motorcycles, to walking on their bare feet, I would resign,” he said. “But the opposite is true.”
Kem Sokha, director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, on Sunday defended democracy forums. He said they help people understand how to pick good leaders and how poverty and corruption are connected. He also criticized what he called the government’s definition of development.
“Cars, hotels and villas cannot be compared to the forests, fisheries and state properties [that have been lost],” he said.
(Additional reporting by Michael Cowden)