Tycoons Set To Vote Secretly for Chamber Chief

An election slated for early Au­gust could unseat Sokimex petroleum tycoon Sok Kong from his six year tenure as president of the Phnom Penh Chamber of Com­merce, Nang Sothy, deputy sec­re­tary of the chamber’s executive board said Wednesday.

On either Aug 7 or Aug 8, about 40 members of the chamber, which includes a host of Cam­bo­dia’s most powerful and en­igmatic bu­si­nessmen, will cast se­cret votes to decide who will head it for the next three years, Nang Sothy said.

“Sok Kong has been president for six years already because he’s do­­ing a good job,” said Diep Leng, de­puty director general of the Cam­bodia Chamber of Com­merce.

The Phnom Penh chamber’s roles include promoting investment in Cambodia and mediating bu­si­ness disputes.

Sorn Sokna, vice chairman of So­­ki­mex, is a vice president of the cham­ber, while Heu Hang, So­ki­mex general manager, is a chamber member.

Other chamber vice presidents in­clude Ly Yong Phat, the CEO of Hero King CO Ltd, according to the Cambodia Chamber of Com­merce Handbook. Ly Yong Phat is thought to be highly influ­en­tial in the running of Koh Kong pro­vince.

Sorn Sokna said he could not pre­­­dict whether Sok Kong will win, but added that he was res­pon­sible for building the chamber’s headquarters. Sok Kong “has helped a lot,” Sorn Sokna said.

According to the handbook, Phnom Penh chamber members in­­clude Lav Meng Khin, chairman of controversial land development company Pheapimex, Kith Meng, chairman of the Royal Group of companies which owns MobiTel, and Mong Re­ththy of the Mong Reththy Group.

Banteay Meanchey, Siem Reap, Bat­tambang and Kampot prov­inces and Sihanoukville all have chambers of commerce, while new ones are set to start in Kandal and Kom­pong Cham provinces in the com­ing months, Nang Sothy said.

Nang Sothy declined to reveal who might be strong enough to run against Sok Kong, while Kith Meng rejected speculation that he might do so.

Prior to Sok Kong, scandal-plagued tycoon Teng Bunma head­ed the chamber, Mike Davis of Global Witness said.

Following the bloody factional fighting of 1997, Teng Bunma brag­ged of giving Prime Minister Hun Sen $1 million during the con­flict. On one occasion when an airl­ine lost his luggage, Teng Bun­ma shot out the tires of a plane at Phnom Penh International Air­port.

In 1997, he was barred from en­ter­­ing the US. A US State Depart­ment official said at the time that the US government suspected Teng Bunma was involved in drug traf­­ficking. Teng Bunma has de­nied the allegations.

The chamber “has much im­proved over the past three years, no question,” Tim Smyth, managing director of Indochina Re­search, said.

But he added that the chamber could improve on its leadership, and that its members could adopt more transparent practices in their own businesses. The council also should do more to help small and medium en­ter­prises, he said.

On Aug 6, small and large busi­nes­ses from Phnom Penh will elect 25 new council members who will go on to vote for the president, Nang Sothy said.

Half a dozen market vendors said Wednesday that they will likely vote, but said they were too scared to give their names.

“I got $10 for the last time. I don’t know what we’ll get this time,” said a 46-year-old vendor from Kom­pong Cham province selling belts and wallets at Phsar Thmei. “I don’t re­member who I vo­ted for, I just took [the money],” she said.

A 50-year-old vendor from Kan­dal province at the same market said the last chamber vote did not im­prove business. “I don’t understand how voting can help,” she said. “The size of my shop is still like this. Nothing changes.”


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