The Minister of Cults and Religion was questioned by a National Assembly commission on Tuesday over efforts to promote Buddhism in the country and an assortment of other concerns affecting the religion, according to the opposition lawmaker who summoned him.
Him Chhem appeared before the Assembly’s education, religious affairs and culture commission, chaired by CNRP lawmaker Yem Ponhearith.
Mr. Ponhearith said the main purpose of the appearance was controversial fencing put up around the Buddhist Institute compound near NagaWorld in Phnom Penh, but that the issue was quickly resolved.
“The Minister of Cults and Religion will send a request to City Hall to remove them,” he said. “It was an issue of aesthetics.”
The opposition lawmaker said he had been concerned about how the ministry would promote Buddhism and protect its stability given the ministry’s small budget.
“We had just one concern about providing ways for people to believe in the religious institution,” he said. “To allow the people to return to believing in it, that unit and members of that unit [need to] join together to enforce its rules and [have] good discipline.”
The monkhood has been wracked by scandals and crimes committed by its members in recent years, but religious authorities have refused to acknowledge that there may be a systemic problem.
Mr. Ponhearith said that the commission also asked the minister to consider requiring monks to be given ID cards like ordinary citizens because their monk certificates could no longer be used to register to vote.
The minister was also asked about late payments to teachers at Buddhist schools. Mr. Ponhearith requested that the ministry expedite requests for funding from the Finance Ministry to pay the salaries.
Mr. Chhem had little to say after the meeting, telling reporters that construction had begun on a new ministry headquarters, and that the monkhood had increased to 65,000 monks.
Mr. Ponhearith said he planned to summon Minister of Culture and Fine Arts
Phoeung Sakona to the commission’s next meeting.