Infighting Kills Proposed Dolphin Authority

Squabbling over a leadership post has scuttled a proposed government authority intended to mesh efforts to conserve Cam­bo­dia’s freshwater dolphins and promote tourism in Kratie province, a government official said Tues­day.

On Friday, co-Minister of In­ter­ior Sar Kheng dropped a subde­cree to establish a Council of Min­is­ters authority overseeing the growth of tourism in Kratie, which is largely based on schools of freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins fre­quently seen in the area.

Tourism Minister Lay Prohas of Funcinpec and Secretary of State Thong Khon of the CPP each insisted on heading the au­thor­ity, leading to its demise, said Council of Ministers Un­der­sec­-retary of State Touch Seang Tana.

“Those who did not allow this au­thority to be created, they should be responsible for the dolphins,” he said. “They should think about the national interest, not the position.”

Lay Prohas denied that charge, arguing that such an au­thority was useless. Thong Khon was in France on Tuesday and could not be reached for comment.

Lay Prohas said that the au­thor­ity would have been yet another Council of Ministers body duplicating the efforts of relevant ministries.

“I don’t want to have a parallel authority that is just useless,” Lay Prohas said. “I don’t think [such an authority] would work effectively or be considered good governance…. Too many authorities will just cause a budget problem.”

He argued that the current Na­tion­al Tourism Authority, of which he is deputy director and former tourism minister Veng Sereyvuth is chairman, can monitor the mushrooming industry in Kratie.

Touch Seang Tana was one of the authority’s biggest proponents, arguing that ecological changes, overfishing and an in­creasing number of tourists all posed problems for the dolphins.

The authority would have giv­en a definitive account of the numb­er of dolphins in Cam­bo­di­an rivers, Touch Seang Tana said. He dis­put­ed figures offered by some locally-based foreign ex­perts.

Last month the Mekong Dol­phin Conservation Project reported that tourism in Kratie had affected the dolphins’ habitat, with tourists and speedboats polluting the Mekong’s waters.

“They are extremists, and they exaggerate the information,” Touch Seang Tana said.

Months before the current co­alition government was formed in July, Prime Minister Hun Sen named the Tourism Authority as one of many Council of Ministers-controlled bodies scheduled for elimination, bowing to a long-standing donor recommendation for government reform.

No committees have been cut, how­ever, and Hun Sen ap­pears to have backed off the initiative.

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