Chief threat­ened af­ter min­istry di­rec­tive

The Phnom Penh Post - - NA­TIONAL -

at lo­cal de­vel­op­ment.

The min­istry’s state­ment yes­ter­day told author­i­ties to en­sure that any con­struc­tion or ren­o­va­tions to com­mune halls pro­ceed only af­ter ap­proval from pro­vin­cial of­fi­cials, whether the projects used the state bud­get or do­nated funds.

“Be­fore the con­struc­tion of com­mune halls, the com­mune coun­cil has to get the per­mis­sion from pro­vin­cial and mu­nic­i­pal ad­min­is­tra­tion via town and district ad­min­is­tra­tions,” the state­ment reads.

Pressed for de­tails about the rea­son for the state­ment, min­istry spokesman Khieu Sopheak was quick to ac­cuse “some com­mune chiefs” of con­struct­ing or re­fur­bish­ing com­mune halls to bur­nish their party’s cre­den­tials.

“They want to raise the money to build the com­mune hall, and af­ter the con­struc­tion is com­pleted, they in­vite their party of­fi­cials to in­au­gu­rate their com­mune hall,” he said.

He then went on to ac­cuse an un­named com­mune chief in Bat­tam­bang as an ex­am­ple of some­one who was us­ing her own funds to run the com­mune hall while pro­ject­ing it as her and her party’s ac­com­plish­ment.

“We see that in Bat­tam­bang, there is an ex­am­ple. What­ever they do in Bat­tam­bang, it is made to seem as only she has done it,” he said, mak­ing an ap­par­ent ref­er­ence to CNRP O’Char Com­mune Chief Sin Rozeth.

The pop­u­lar com­mune chief has had prior run-ins with lo­cal author­i­ties. She was pulled up by pro­vin­cial of­fi­cials for ac­ci­den­tally fail­ing to charge vil­lagers for com­mune ser­vices, and was more re­cently chas­tised by the Bat­tam­bang town gov­er­nor for build­ing a drainage sys­tem that was al­legedly not up to spec­i­fi­ca­tion. Of­fi­cials, how­ever, ul­ti­mately let the project pro­ceed af­ter see­ing it en­joyed broad lo­cal sup­port.

How­ever, Sopheak yes­ter­day seemed to es­ca­late the rhetoric by threat­en­ing to send Rozeth to jail like her “leader” – a ref­er­ence to CNRP Pres­i­dent Kem Sokha, who is cur­rently in a Tbong Kh­mum prov­ince prison on widely con­demned “trea­son” charges.

“Both leader and fol­lower will go to jail. The case has not been pros­e­cuted yet, and now the fol­lower wants be in jail?” he added.

Rozeth yes­ter­day de­nied Sopheak’s ac­cu­sa­tions, say­ing she had never por­trayed any of her im­prove­ments to the com­mune hall as some kind of largesse from the CNRP.

She added that she had to use her own funds to run the com­mune hall in lieu of the “zero riel” fund­ing she had re­ceived from the min­istry.

“I am the com­mune chief and I have used my money only for some equip­ment, such as a fan, to pay the elec­tric costs, and to ar­range the [com­mune] meet­ings,” she said.

She called Sopheak’s threat “in­tim­i­da­tion of lo­cal author­i­ties”, and pointed out that it was the CPP that rou­tinely touted its lo­cal-level con­tri­bu­tions as party achieve­ments.

It is com­mon for CPP work- ing groups and gov­ern­men­tal­igned ty­coons to donate funds for the up­keep of com­munes and dis­tricts, of­ten in events dis­sem­i­nated on so­cial me­dia with much fan­fare.

While ini­tially re­luc­tant to dis­cuss th­ese do­na­tions, CPP spokesman Sok Eysan did ad­mit that the rul­ing party also used out­side con­tri­bu­tions to fund lo­cal projects, but claimed the party never claimed credit for it. “The com­mune hall does not be­long to any one party be­cause it be­longs to the govern­ment. Even though the CPP has built them in the past, but the CPP has never used the party’s name [to claim credit],” he said.

Po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor Meas Nee said it was ac­cept­able for the min­istry to pull up er­rant com­mune chiefs and lo­cal of­fi­cials for le­git­i­mate mis­takes, but noted that the cir­cum­stances of Rozeth’s al­leged in­frac­tion did not war­rant such a threat or re­ac­tion.

“This is not the lan­guage the govern­ment must use,” he said. “This is not an is­sue to hand­cuff [some­one].”

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