Lawmakers Question Minister Over Migration

Rural Development Minister Chea Sophara met with the National Assembly’s commission on rural development, environment and water resources Wednesday for a review of the ministry’s work over the past year.

Pol Ham, a senior CNRP lawmaker who heads the commission, told reporters after Wednesday’s closed-door meeting that the parliamentarians focused their questions on measures being taken to invigorate the rural economy so that Cambodians are not forced to relocate to find jobs.

“Members of the commission praised the efforts of the Rural Development Ministry, but we requested that the minister help poor people in rural areas, and in particular improve the livelihoods of villagers to reduce migration,” Mr. Ham said.

About 1 million Cambodians—out of a population of more than 15 million—have left their homes for work elsewhere, according to the International Labor Organization. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs estimates that some 660,000 Cambodians work in Thailand alone.

Mr. Sophara, who was sacked as the governor of Phnom Penh in 2003, told reporters that his ministry was making efforts to create jobs and support businesses in rural areas.

“At this point, the Ministry of Rural Development has established training centers and…provided small-scale financial loans with low rates to create jobs and skills for people in order to reduce migration and enhance productivity,” he said.

Mr. Sophara also boasted of greater access to clean water and improved sanitation facilities as a result of his ministry’s work.

“The ministry has supplied clear water to 50 percent of the nation and 49 percent has hygienic [toilets],” he said.

And despite the many disputes between private companies and ethnic minority communities over land in rural areas, Mr. Sophara said the government was committed to helping protect the country’s indigenous people.

“For example, they have to have community forests and burial land,” he said.

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