Parliament Earns Money From Fishing Lots

Critics Call Lots a Conflict of Interest

The Ministry of Agriculture has given two fishing lots in Kompong Thom province to the Senate, with funds from the lots to be used for constructing and repairing Senate buildings, government officials said this week.

Nhiek Chhay Eng, deputy secretary general of the Senate, said Tuesday that the Senate sent a proposal to Prime Minister Hun Sen, saying members needed  the lots to make some money.

“The Senate has no experience in fishing, but we only asked for the lots and are thinking of transferring them to businessmen so they can run them,” Nhiek Chhay Eng said. “The businessmen said if the Senate could get lots of fishing areas, they would manage them and make money for the Senate.”

He said Hun Sen approved the proposal two months ago, shortly before publicly calling for more fishing areas to be taken from private businesses and turned over to local fishermen.

Senators said the idea for the lots came from the National Assembly, which was given five lots after lawmakers were elected in 1998.

Sou Sarath, undersecretary of state for the Ministry of Agri­culture, said his ministry transferred the five lots to the National Assembly according to the lawmakers’ request. He could not recall where the lots are and how much the National As­sembly made from them.

“The National Assembly rented the lots out to some businessmen, but the National Assembly still owns the lots,” Sou Sarath said.

He said the National Assembly has the lots for the lawmakers’ five-year term, while the Senate will have their lots for its members’ six-year term.

“The two institutes asked to have the lots, so we have to give it to them so they can meet their needs,” Sou Sarath said. “We have many fishing lots for the people. The lots we gave to the National Assembly and the Sen­ate are small ones, so we still have enough for the people.”

But fisheries specialist Touch Seang Tana said the parliamentarians who negotiated for the fishing lots are manipulating the system for their benefit. “They feel they can make a lot of money on this,” he said. “According to the law, no state institution should do business like this. This is the rule…. It sounds like there are people within the Senate who are playing games and others do not know what is happening.”

Peter Koppinger, country representative for Konrad Adenauer Stiftung institute, which advocates democracy, said the ownership of fishing lots present a conflict of interest for lawmakers.

“State institutions that have power should not be dependent on private forms of business because it makes them biased, and they have a tendency to not find a fair solution for all,” he said.

Tao Seng Hour, former Min­ister of Agriculture and now vice chairman of the Council of Agri­cultural and Rural Development in the Council of Ministers, confirmed that the Senate and Na­tional Assembly own lots.

“But we should not say that the National Assembly and Senate own the lots,” he said. “We should say the people of the Nat­ional Assembly and Senate own the lots.”

However, Kol Pheng, secretary-general of the National Assembly, denied lawmakers were involved with fishing lots.

“The members of parliament are people who make laws, not fish,” he said.

Chan Ven, deputy secretary-general of the National Assembly, said he heard the Assembly owned lots, but has never seen documents pertaining to them.

The lucrative fishing lots, which can go for hundreds of thousands of dollars, have been a contentious issue in recent years. Local fishermen accuse owners of preventing them from fishing in ancestral fishing grounds.

Hun Sen recently criticized fishery officials for not doing more to help fishermen, which led to the firing of at least four officials, including the director of the Ministry of Agriculture’s Fishery Department.

The Ministry of Agriculture is in the process of revamping the way lots are owned and managed to provide more places for locals to fish. So far, it is unclear what will happen to the lawmakers’ lots under a reform plan, officials said.

Several senators said they were upset about the fishing lot deal, saying it was not proper for the Senate to own fishing lots.

“I am not happy about this,” said Chea Peng Chheang, a Fun­cinpec senator who wrote a re­port on the fishing lots for the Sen­ate. “Fishing is not the role of the Senate. We should keep the lots for the people and the government.”

A Sept 26 document written by Chea Peng Chheang, chairman of the Sen­ate’s Special Commit­tee, Lots 3 and 7 were transferred to the Senate on Sept 18

Before the Senate was given the lots, a businessman said he would give the Senate $100,000 to lease the lots for the six-year term, according to the Senate doc­ument. After the Senate re­ceived the lots, the man decreas­ed his offer to $40,000, prompting the committee to recommend the Senate look elsewhere.

“We think that $40,000 is a very small amount and is not suitable for this supreme institute,” the document said.

The committee recommended the Senate accept an offer of $120,000 for the six-year term offered by another businessman.

“If the Senate has no funds, we should make a report to the Finance Ministry to get more money,” said Kong Koam, a Sam Rainsy Party senator. “It is not fair for the Senate to get funding through fishing lots. The Senate has no technical skills in fishing.”

Thach Setha, another Sam Rainsy Party senator, said a lawmaking body should not be involved in the fishing business.

“If people know about this, the Senate’s reputation will be harmed,” he said. “We are lawmakers so we should focus on making laws.”

(Additional reporting by Gina Chon and Brian Mock­enhaupt)

 

 

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