No Pain, No Gain Hun Sen opens a new reform chapter for Cambodia

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Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen walks at the National Assembly in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Sept. 6, 2018. (Xinhua/Sovannara)

The public mood and discourse have shifted from the speculative return of the outlawed opposition leader to the domestic reform agenda. Actually, reform is the core issue of contemporary Cambodian politics.

The government led by the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) should have been aware of this long before. The main existential threat does not come from the opposition party but from the failure of public sector reform.

Over the past few weeks, local analysts, foreign diplomats and the general public alike are enthusiastically following the reform messages by Prime Minister Hun Sen and they are waiting to see the results of the reforms.

They expect that the reforms would deliver concrete results for the betterment of the Cambodian people who are in hunger to see a clean and efficient government.

To survive and stay relevant, Cambodia must thrive for exceptional leadership and governance. Mr Hun Sen is now confident to crack down on illegal logging, online gambling, and other corruption cases. He understands that without serious reforms, the government cannot earn public trust and confidence.

Judicial reform is one of the top priorities. Peace and stability cannot be sustained without social justice and a fair and just judiciary system. Everyone knows that the justice system in Cambodia needs “surgery” from the national to sub-national levels.

The judiciary is one arm of the government which has an important role to play for all citizens and investors in the country. The Prime Minister recognizes the need for the judiciary to administer justice to all, irrespective of social or economic status.

Reports of corruption in the judiciary are getting louder and its manifestations changing according to prevailing circumstances. For long, many knew that corruption had become a “system” in itself and a norm within the judiciary system.

It is important to note is that corruption has glaring spillovers on the entire justice chain, ranging from impeding access to justice by the poor, vulnerable and marginalised groups to creating mistrust in the judicial system by the general public. By default, this leads to public distrust in the royal government and the Prime Minister.

Concerning Sihanoukville, the government is aware of the risks of widespread online gambling, crimes, money laundering, and other related illegal activities. Eliminating online gambling is just the beginning of a more comprehensive reforms that the government will implement to restore the image and identity of Sihanoukbville, once a charming coastal city of the Kingdom.

Sihanoukville has unfortunately become the gambling town. This is not the image that Cambodia wishes to have. It is culturally and socially unacceptable. Some political and business elites who benefit from the fast development of the city should think twice and put our national interest ahead of individual or group interest.

Restoring public order, public trust, image and identity of Sihanoukville is a litmus test for Mr. Hun Sen. The real reform starts from here, this city. If he could successfully restore the image of Sihanoukville, he could prove that he is serious about reform.

On another front, the grilling of some senior officials from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries is a positive sign, irrespective of whether they are found guilty or not. Those responsible for illegal logging and ‘fake’ economic land concessions should be held accountable.

The time has come for all civil servants of all ranks to stay true to public service delivery and be honest to the people and the government. Those government officials who have become millionaire- although their average salary is about USD 400, should stop being too greedy, reflect and correct themselves. Although some of them are not caught now, they will face justice in the future or at least their names will be registered in a blacklist of public memory.

The current situation requires strong and transformative leadership. Mr. Hun Sen is the hope for the future of this country. The public is following closely what will happen next. High expectations are on Mr. Hun Sen to discipline his officials and party members and build a clean, efficient, effective, inclusive, and smart government.

He has the mandate. He has the power. Now he needs to exert his personal and political will to make all of these a success for a better Cambodia.

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