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Reshuffle a Positive Move Says Business Community

May Kunmakara / Khmer Times Share:
Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks at the Cambodia Microfiniace Development Summit 2016 at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh. KT/ Mai Vireak

The business community in Cambodia has welcomed the recent Cabinet reshuffle, which many say will improve the way the government works and will also improve the economy.
Many said they were disappointed by the departure of Sun Chanthol from the Ministry of Commerce, who took over the ministry in September 2013 after the general election and improved the way the ministry works, making reforms in trade facilitation, import-export procedures as well as promoting local and foreign trade. 
However, people are confident that in his new job at the Ministry of Public Works and Transport (MPWT) he will make some reforms and positive changes to logistics and infrastructure.     
During a Cabinet meeting last Friday, Prime Minister Hun Sen moved Mr. Chanthol and replaced him as the Minister of Commerce with Pan Sorasak, a secretary of state at the Commerce Ministry. 
The resignation of Minister of Foreign Affairs Hor Namhong was also approved, but he will keep his title of deputy prime minister. Mr. Namhong was replaced by Prak Sokhon, the current Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, while Tram Iv Tek, the Minister of Public Works and Transport, will replace him. 
Mr. Sokhon will step down as National Deputy Chairman of the Cambodian Mine Action Authority and the premier said the post would be taken over by Serei Kosal. Ly Thuch will serve as his deputy. Minister of Land Management Im Chhun Lim will be nominated for a spot on the Constitutional Council and if confirmed, will be appointed president. 
Mr. Lim’s current post will be taken over by Chea Sophara, the current Minister of Rural Development. Veng Sokhon, a secretary of state at the Water Resource Ministry, has been nominated as Minister of Agriculture, Forests and Fisheries, while Ouk Rabun will be removed from that post and moved to the Rural Development Ministry.
Minister of Cults and Religious Affairs Min Khin will be removed from his position and the spot will be taken by Him Chhem, the former Minister of Culture and Fine Arts. Mr. Khin will take over the role of Special Minister in charge of special missions.
Keat Chhon, a permanent Deputy Prime Minister whose resignation was approved, is being replaced by fellow Deputy Prime Minister Bin Chhin, who in addition to his new role will continue handling land dispute resolutions. 
Mr. Chhin will now take the reins of Mr. Chhon’s post handling the Cambodia Development Council (CDC). Chin Bun Sean, a senior minister in charge of special missions, was appointed to be vice-chairman of the CDC. 
Brett Sciaroni, Senior Partner of Sciaroni & Associates, told Khmer Times that the changes in the cabinet will strengthen the government and improve the economy. He said the business community is sad to see Mr. Chanthol leave the Ministry of Commerce, where he had a major impact with his reform agenda. Mr. Sciaroni added that moving the commerce minister to the ministry of transportation is the right move and he will improve the development of infrastructure and logistics.  
“For the business community, the most dramatic change is Senior Minister Sun Chanthol being assigned to the Ministry of Transportation and Public Works. This switch makes sense from a number of standpoints,” he said, “First, Samdech Prime Minister had long identified that ministry as lagging behind and in need of a make-over.
“So it made sense that he put in a high energy and focused minister such as Senior Minister Sun Chanthol in that job. Also, he had previously served as the Minister of Transportation and Public Works, so he knows the ministry and its work well.”
At the 2016 Cambodia Outlook Conference held early this month and presided over by Prime Minister Hun Sen, the main focus was on the development of infrastructure and logistics for connectivity and growth. 
David Van, the managing director in Cambodia of consulting firm Bower Group Asia, also said moving Mr. Chanthol to the Ministry of Public Works and Transport was aimed at tapping into Mr. Chanthol’s dynamic drive, which was seen when he reformed the commerce ministry.
“He would be able to pick up the ball and run immediately instead of spending time to get a good grasp of issues at stake at the new ministry,” said Mr. Van.  
“Senior Minister Sun Chanthol already declared last Saturday to the media that he’s fully committed to reform the Ministry of Public Works and Transport the way he did for the Ministry of Commerce under Samdech Techo’s [Mr. Hun Sen’s] instructions and the public will be glad to see concrete results from the MPWT within the next one to two years by virtue of his full familiarization with the MPWT and his proven record at the Ministry of Commerce,” he added. 
Song Saran, the owner of Amru Rice (Cambodia), one of the largest milled rice exporters and millers, also appreciated Mr. Chanthol’s work at the Ministry of Commerce since he took over after the general election in July 2013, saying he had carried out many reforms. 
“The prime minister made the right decision to reshuffle the Cabinet. There’s enough time to improve the weak and low-performing ministries,” he said. “The improvement of those poorly rated ministries will increase the competitiveness of Cambodia in the ASEAN Community and will help address the challenges of the costs of production, multi-national transportation and the lack of skilled labor,” he said. 
Mr. Chanthol spoke to reporters last Saturday and said he is committed to reforming the transportation sector in order to cut people’s expenses when he takes office at the Ministry of Public Works and Transport.
“I go back to the Ministry of Public Works and Transport because the government requires me to change and reform the public service: issuing driving licenses, for instance,” Mr. Chanthol said. 
“I think about the priority things that I have to do and the first thing is to solve the transportation problem and provide a public service that is faster and cheaper for our people,” Mr. Chanthol added. “This is the work that I prepare and commit to reform the ministry for our country.” 
According to a recent survey by the National Advisory Team Organization (NATO) which randomly interviewed 546 people on reform and efficiency of work in the 24 government ministries, Mr. Chanthol received the highest approval of 50 percent, while the Ministry of Health was the lowest at 3 percent, followed by the Ministry of Planning with 4 percent, the Ministry of Agriculture (5 percent) and the Ministry of Cults and Religions (7 percent).
Mr. Sorasak, a Ministry of Commerce Secretary of State who has served almost two mandates, will become the new Minister of Commerce, and many in the business community say he is capable enough but should push through even more reforms. 
“The new minister, Mr. Pan Sorasak, would need to check if any systems need to improve to achieve mid-term and long-term success at the Ministry of Commerce. I believe Mr. Sorasak has the capacity to continue the reforms,” said Mr. Saran from Amru Rice.
Mr. Sciaroni also welcomed Mr. Sorasak into his new role. “He is well known and much appreciated in the private sector and is well positioned to promote the prime minister’s reform agenda and contribute to the continued expansion of trade and the economy,” he said.
Last month Mr. Hun Sen lashed out at the current Minister of Public Works and Transport Tram Iv Tek and the Minister of Agriculture, Ouk Rabun, for their inefficiencies. 
Mr. Saran said agriculture is one of the main pillars of the economy. The long-term plan is to ensure a wider and more accessible irrigation system for farmers. He said at present farmers and rice millers are facing huge losses and something should be done as not enough investment has gone into this sector.  
“There has not been much incentive from the government to promote rice farming and rice exports. We need to have concrete action and plans to deliver short-term and medium-term results,” he said. 
Mr. Van also mentioned the crisis in the rice industry and said a fully integrated approach needs to be taken across a number of ministries. 
“It is hoped that Deputy Prime Minister Bin Chin, who now takes over from Deputy Prime Minister Keat Chhon, will be able to get a good grasp of the issues at stake to convene an urgent inter-ministerial meeting as called for by Mr. Hun Sen in his recent instructions to Deputy Prime Minister Keat Chhon,” said Mr. Van. 
Mr. Hun Sen retained Economic and Finance Minister Aun Pormoniroth, while promoting him to the position of senior minister in the government. The prime minister appointed 11 new Cabinet members and announced the early retirement of four provincial governors. The proposal also put forward 11 names for nomination as secretaries of state at a number of different ministries. 
An April 4 vote on the new ministers is planned and Mr. Hun Sen’s choices are expected to pass easily through a CPP-dominated National Assembly once the permanent committee finishes its review of the candidates.

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