Provincial Officials Want Governor Investigated

Government officials in Preah Sihanouk province are threatening to go on strike unless the Interior Ministry launches an investigation into their claims of nepotism and general incompetence against provincial governor Chhit Sokhon.

In a January 16 letter to Interior Minister Sar Kheng, obtained Wednesday, 34 provincial-level officials accuse Mr. Sokhon of seeking to promote his son, Chhit Ratanak, to provincial administration chief and his friend Sar Kakada to deputy governor of Prey Nop district by circumventing the proper channels.

They also accuse the governor of holding up paperwork and running the province with a mercurial temper, thereby sowing tension, depression and disaffection among the ranks.

“The provincial governor has been working without a clear plan, meaning that he will do something or issue an order to do something as soon as something pops into his mind, for instance at a meeting,” the complaint says. “This makes officials under his leadership feel depressed, causes internal friction and creates a divide between the officials and leaders. There is no advice or encouragement when officials make a mistake, only scolding.”

The complainants urge the interior minister to send a team to the province to investigate their claims “in order to take legal action.”

“We will strike and won’t go to work if there is no investigation and action taken,” the complaint says.

Several complainants contacted Wednesday declined to elaborate on their claims against the governor, explain what charges they thought the courts should level against him or offer a deadline for their ultimatum.

Mr. Sokhon could not be reached for comment.

However, both Ly Dy, a provincial councilor for the opposition CNRP, and Cheap Sotheary, provincial monitor for rights group Adhoc, offered praise for the governor and his nearly one-year in office.

Mr. Dy said the governor, a member of the ruling CPP, had gained some populist appeal by working hard, and said he suspected that some of Mr. Sokhon’s subordinates resented him because that hard work was infringing on their “interests.” But he declined to describe the “interests” for fear of attracting the ire of those same officials.

“I don’t want to say good things about him, but what I have learned from local people is that they admire him,” Mr. Dy said. “I think what he’s doing affects the interests of those officials.”

Adhoc’s Ms. Sotheary commended the governor for reclaiming public land along Sihanoukville’s beaches from encroaching private developments, and said that his administration, contrary to the accusations in the complaint, has actually been working faster and more efficiently than his predecessor’s.

“He’s been very cooperative since he came to office. He pays very close attention when working for the public interest. For example, he took the lead in taking back land on O’Tres Beach,” she said.

“When people, and when I, want to process a document, there are many officers there to receive it, give us a number and stamp the paper, so the process is fast…. If he gets a complaint, he doesn’t wait too long. He appoints an official to work on it.”

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said he had seen the complaint but declined to say what would be done with it.

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Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that 35 provincial-level officials signed the complaint accusing Preah Sihanouk governor Chhit Sokhon of nepotism and incompetence.

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