Minister of Commerce Accused of Nepotism

Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh has temporarily replaced his chief of Cabinet with his daugh­ter, a ministry official said, sparking claims of nepotism by opposition lawmakers.

Cham Nimol, 24, who formerly served as deputy director for the Com­merce Ministry’s Foreign Trade Department, replaced Sous Sambath as acting cabinet chief last week, Mao Thura, the ministry’s director general, said Wednesday.

“There is no law against someone who is related to the minister, working together in the same ministry,” said Mao Thura. “It is a normal case in our society. This is something we can’t avoid.”

Cham Nimol’s mother, Tep Bopha Prasidh, is the Minis­try’s director of administration, and her brother, Cham Borith, is deputy director general for Cam­control, which inspects the quality of imported and exported goods.

Cham Nimol could not be contacted Wednesday. Reached by telephone, Cham Prasidh said: “Sorry, no interview.”

Former Cabinet chief Sous Sambath said he asked to step down from his position, citing health reasons.

“I have a problem with my eyes and nose,” he said Wednesday. “I used the computer too much. It was heavy work as Cabinet chief.”

Cham Nimol was the right person to replace him, he added.

“I think for the moment, only the minister’s daughter is able to handle my work,” he said.

Other ministry officials also praised Cham Nimol.

Thon Virak, deputy director for the foreign trade department who formerly worked in the same office as the minister’s daughter, said she was “perfect” for the job.

“She is fluent in English and is good at working with documents,” he said. “The documents are mainly in English.”

Critics of the appointment did not question Cham Nimol’s abilities, but rather the nepotism that has persisted within government ranks for decades.

“It’s not only the Minister of Commerce. Many high-ranking officials have tied up secure al­liances for their own families,” said op­position lawmaker Son Chhay.

“Without relatives and a family body, the secrets may get to an outsider,” Son Chhay said.

Chea Vannath, president of the Center for Social Development, agreed, calling Cham Prasidh’s ap­pointment of Cham Nimol “unbelievable.”

“It is a conflict of interest,” she said. “This is not the 1980s. Now it is 2004, and it’s time to avoid nepotism.”

Civil servants should be hired on merits, she said.

“To appoint one’s own daughter or son to the ministry is to re­ject other requirements for a candidate,” she said.

Last month, a group of opposition lawmakers called for an inquiry into the income sources of Cham Prasidh and his wife after it was revealed that Tep Bopha Prasidh owned shares worth about $1 million in an import-export company.

Cham Prasidh has denied that his wife did anything wrong.

any wrongdoing on the part of his wife and blasted the parliamentarians for making unsubstantiated attacks.


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