Officials Use Government Letterhead for Private Affairs

Ruling party lawmaker Chheang Vun on Wednesday denied any wrongdoing after using his government position to compel the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications to clear up dangling electrical wires in front of a restaurant he owns.

A December 17 letter from Mr. Vun to Posts and Telecommunications Minister Prak Sokhon, printed on official National Assembly letterhead, made the rounds on Facebook on Wednesday and was posted to the page of the Cambodian branch of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability (ANSA), an advocacy group focusing on good governance.

A Range Rover drives past CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun’s restaurant in Phnom Penh yesterday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
A Range Rover drives past CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun’s restaurant in Phnom Penh yesterday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“As I have informed Your Excellency Minister, my son and I opened a restaurant on a plot of land: Number 1; National Assembly Street; Tonle Bassac commune; Chamkar Mon district; Phnom Penh municipality,” Mr. Vun writes, referring to his restaurant “Midnight in Phnom Penh,” or MIP, which he owns with his son.

“In front of the restaurant there are three electricity poles with tangled telephone and Internet cables causing concern of possible damage. Furthermore, one of the three poles is tilting and can fall down any time on the restaurant and the customers.”

Contacted on Wednesday, Mr. Vun said the letter was genuine and he saw nothing wrong with it.

“It was not wrong to use that letterhead,” the CPP lawmaker said, adding that the problem had been duly taken care of.

“I wrote because citizens asked a lawmaker to help, so it’s a normal thing for a lawmaker like me to intervene in this,” he said. “And my son is also a citizen.”

“I’m not using my influence to pressure the telecoms minister. I was asking him to help,” Mr. Vun said. “If we let a tilting pole like that stay, it could cause harm to local residents. And by coincidence, my son started a business there, so I did it out of concern for local people and passersby.”

ANSA country representative San Chey said Mr. Vun’s use of the letter was a clear example of abuse of power.

“Opening a restaurant is a completely private matter, so he should have used private letterhead,” he said. “National Assembly letterhead should not be used because using letterhead with the National Assembly logo means using the influence of the National Assembly to influence the minister of post and telecommunications.”

Mr. Chey said the lawmaker’s offense was hardly surprising, however, citing another government letter circulated on Facebook on Wednesday, used to invite a prosecutor to a wedding event for an official’s daughter.

The March 21 letter from Kompong Chhnang provincial governor Chhoun Chandoeun, bearing a government stamp, invites provincial court prosecutor You Tithvathanak to a morning wedding procession for the daughter of Kuy Sophal, a senior minister at the Royal Palace.

Contacted on Wednesday, Mr. Chandoeun, the governor, said there was nothing wrong with asking his staff to send a wedding invitation, but conceded that they should not have sent it on government stationery.

“The administration made a mistake by issuing an administrative letter…. It was also my mistake because I was in a hurry and signed without reading; I am so sorry,” he said.

“I have informed the administration department about the mistake,” he said. “They were so happy to be criticized and told to change.”

Sam Chankea, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said the governor should take more responsibility.

“Using an administrative letter with a stamp means it’s a threat to join. He should not use the state’s power to order someone to join a private event.”

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