The massive increase in Cabinet positions outlined in the new coalition government agreement sparked criticism Monday from observers and a senior government official who charged that the CPP and Funcinpec have sacrificed bureaucratic efficiency to placate party members.
Prime Minister Hun Sen and Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh are fast moving toward forming a new government under the agreement signed Friday by both party leaders. The agreement will be included in a larger cooperation contract scheduled to be signed Wednesday by Funcinpec and the CPP.
The deal calls for the creation of more than 160 extra Cabinet positions, including five deputy prime ministers and scores of new secretaries of state and undersecretaries of state spread throughout 27 ministries and state secretariats.
But observers and some within the government noted that a ballooning Cabinet may not be the antidote to an already bloat-
ed bureaucracy notorious for
corruption, red tape and general inefficiency.
CPP Cabinet Minister Sok An, who has worked closely with aid agencies and foreign donors on decentralization and governance reform issues, declined comment on the Cabinet expansion Monday, saying he was too busy.
“The deal has been reached at the expense of the Cambodian taxpayers,” said Lao Mong Hay, a political science professor with the Center for Social Development. “This country can’t afford that kind of burden.”
The increase in positions is believed to stem from a drive in both parties to appease members with appointments to prestigious government spots. Though Funcinpec will surrender control of three ministries in the next mandate, the party appears set to pick up scores more government positions under the plan.
A senior CPP official, who requested anonymity, said Monday that the Cabinet additions were a necessary “cost” to bring the parties together for a third mandate.
“There is a saying: Many cooks spoil the food,” the official said. “But in this situation, sometimes this can solve the problem of deadlock, or maybe we can say [it is in] the spirit of national reconciliation.”
“It’s not so reasonable, but we need it,” he said.
Funcinpec spokesman Kassie Neou declined to comment on the agreement Monday. Minister of Women’s Affairs Mu Sochua said it was too early to pass judgment on the new powersharing provision.
“We will try our best to make the government as efficient as possible…. It’s a new government, so the structure is going to change,” Mu Sochua said.
Neither of the two parties has reached a formal decision on who will receive Cabinet positions, but both seem confident that Friday’s powersharing deal will bear fruit.
The agreement “means that the woman is pregnant and getting ready to deliver,” Hun Sen adviser Om Yentieng said Monday.
A spirit of cooperation was evident again Monday morning at the CPP’s 53rd anniversary celebration, where party President Chea Sim praised both his party and Funcinpec for resolving the deadlock.
The ceremony at CPP headquarters was also attended by several royalist officials, including Information Minister Lu Laysreng, Justice Minister Neav Sithon, and senators Nhiek Bun Chhay and Chhim Seakleng.
Both Lu Laysreng and Nhiek Bun Chhay have been rumored to be in line for two deputy prime minister positions allocated to the royalists under Friday’s deal.
It is still unclear if the Sam Rainsy Party will be represented in the next government. The opposition party could receive Cabinet positions through Funcinpec, based on a prior agreement between the royalists and the CPP.
Sam Rainsy said Monday that his decision to join a government will hinge on the substance of a final coalition agreement, as well as King Norodom Sihanouk’s approval of a “package vote” to appoint positions simultaneously in the National Assembly and executive branch.