The tax department got a new director on Friday, just days after the former chief was publicly reprimanded and removed from his post by Prime Minister Hun Sen.
In a ceremony attended by the Finance Ministry’s top officials, Deputy Director Sim Eang moved up a rank to replace his boss, Hong Tha, at the department’s helm.
“It’s a very nice surprise to be director of the tax department,” Sim Eang said. “But today I am very sad that our director Hong Tha has been placed in a new job.”
Hun Sen told participants at a good governance seminar earlier this week that the tax department was not doing a satisfactory job and explained that, because he held no power over his corrupt subordinates, Hong Tha would be reshuffled to a position in the Council of Ministers.
But Friday, Finance Minister Keat Chhon gave a very different reason for the changeover. Although Hong Tha did his job well in 2004 and the department exceeded its tax collection goal, he had to be removed for reasons of transparency and good governance, Keat Chhon said.
The finance minister explained that replacing Hong Tha was not enough to improve tax revenues and clean up the department. In order to further the reform, several customs and excise officials would also be fired. Keat Chhon did not specify who those officials were.
Despite his praise of Hong Tha’s work, Keat Chhon said he expected better results from the incoming director. “Your new job is to collect 20 percent more this year,” he told Sim Eang. “The ministry goal for 2005 is to collect up to $105 million in taxes.”
Sim Eang accepted the challenge and said that the department would adopt a more aggressive policy in its collection techniques.
“I’d like to promise that we will use a new tax collecting strategy,” he said. We will “go to find the money, not wait for the money to come find” us.