National Petroleum Authority to Change Hands

The Cambodian National Petroleum Authority (CNPA), formerly overseen by the Council of Ministers, will be integrated into the Ministry of Mines and Energy, according to senior CPP officials, the latest cut to the vast portfolio of government bodies controlled by Deputy Prime Minister Sok An.

Since July’s national election, Mr. An has seen no fewer than 13 state bodies shifted from the purview of the Council of Ministers to relevant ministries in what the government says is an effort to decentralize power within the administration of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The CNPA, charged with the management of the country’s petroleum resources, is chaired by Mr. An. A number of his family members also hold senior management positions in the authority.

“The government plans to include the National Petroleum Authority of Cambodia in the Ministry of Energy,” said Cheam Yeap, a senior lawmaker and spokesman for the ruling party.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said it was too soon to tell whether Mr. An would maintain his position within the petroleum authority, however a senior official at the CNPA said that Mr. An would cede his chairmanship.

“His Excellency Sok An will no longer be the chairman of the petroleum authority,” said Men Den, deputy director-general in charge of exploration, development and production at the CNPA.

Mr. Yeap confirmed Friday, following a meeting at the National Assembly, that the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy would be divided into two ministries—the Ministry of Mines and Energy and the Ministry of Industry and Handicrafts. The government is yet to decide which ministry would be headed by Cham Prasidh, the former commerce minister, who was named minister of industry, mines and energy in September.

Sok Khavan, director-general of the CNPA and the nephew of Mr. An, did not respond to questions Sunday about whether he would keep his po­sition in the CNPA. Diep Sareiviseth, another of Mr. An’s nephews, is the CNPA’s deputy director-general.

The CNPA has failed to meet its own target of extracting oil by the end of 2012, and has been widely criticized for the lack of transparency in its management.

In 2011, the Asian Develop­ment Bank (ADB) reported that the body failed to cooperate with ADB consultants as part of a $1 million project aimed at strengthening governance at the body.

“The Management of the Ex­ecuting Agency showed a marked lack of cooperation with the consulting firm to the point of restricting vital information and failing to encourage wider CNPA staff participation in the program,” the report says.

In 2009, London-based environmental watchdog Global Witness said that Te Duong Dara, the former director-general of the CNPA, who now owns a strawberry plantation in Mondolkiri, had maintained a “vice-like grip on information” at the CNPA, and had recruited “his own pool of loyal staff from other ministries, bypassing the trained staff within the CNPA.”

Mr. Siphan said that the decision to hand over control of the CNPA to the Ministry of Mines and Energy was part of a government plan to transform the Coun­cil of Ministers into an oversight body by decentralizing control of state institutions previously overseen by Mr. An.

“It is a good time to put all the jobs and power into their own proper ministry, because everything is well established already by the Council of Ministers. The Council of Ministers will coordinate,” Mr. Siphan said, adding that the move would also increase the resources available to ministers and enhance accountability within the government.

“Ministers have to have some mechanism to put things together in order for a good administration as well as accountability and effectiveness,” he said.

“We understand that [the] Council of Ministers has no power to order anyone to do anything. We try to coordinate and facilitate as an umbrella ministry,” Mr. Si­phan added.

On November 1, the Council of Ministers released a directive, signed by Mr. Hun Sen, that 11 committees previously managed by Mr. An in the office of the Council of Ministers were to be absorbed by relevant ministries and councils.

Among the 11 committees, the National Information Communications Technology Development Authority will be absorbed by the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, and the National Committee for Population and Development, a partner of the U.N. Population Fund in Cambodia, will become part of the Ministry of Planning.

In Mr. Hun Sen’s first speech to his newly formed cabinet in late September, the prime minister announced that the powerful Supreme Council on State Re­form, previously administered by Mr. An, would be dissolved, with its responsibilities divided among relevant ministries.

Yim Sovann, a senior lawmaker and spokesman for the opposition CNRP, said that the structural changes to Mr. Hun Sen’s administration were welcome, but did not amount to meaningful reform.

“We do not want separate authorities. We also want to put [these bodies] under the proper ministry,” Mr. Sovann said.

“The government doesn’t just have to separate ministries or move one institution to another. They do not eliminate [the] root cause of corruption—weakness of the law,” he said.

© 2013, Aun Pheap. All rights reserved.