The recent building collapse in Kep city that killed 36 people and wounded scores of others, and the calls for the governor of Kep to resign or even be sacked, should be a wakeup call for the Government.
In the case of the Sihanoukville governor who was asked to resign from his post after the deadly collapse of a building in his province, with a slightly fewer number of deaths, is a case in point of accountability. However, this example is not an ideal one as a tragedy under his watch won him a promotion while the Kep governor did not even express public remorse.
Although the decision to fire, promote or move government officials after they had failed to undertake their duties adequately rests solely with the Prime Minister, one cannot ignore the fact that rewarding them with a promotion or a move to another position does not go down well in maintaining public trust in the Government.
For far too long, Government officials have been publicly chastised and threatened with dismissal, only to be moved to another position in a different ministry or department without being held accountable.
For the Royal Government to have people’s confidence in the administration and build on it, incompetent officials and even ministers, if need be, must be held accountable.
Why is accountability such an important leadership principle? Accountability builds public trust and, in turn, public trust strengthens governance, be it the Government or a corporation. If public servants feel that they can act with impunity and not be held accountable, this could fuel mistakes, errors in judgment, incompetence and corruption.
From a management perspective, when you make people accountable for their actions it means that you effectively teach them to value their work. Through positive feedback and corrective actions, they learn that their behaviour and actions have an impact on the organisation. When people know that they’re valued and important, they’re more driven to work hard. They learn to have a sense of ownership in what they do.
When civil servants in key positions shirk these responsibilities and are not held accountable for deadly mishaps that happen during their watch, then impunity sneaks in and impunity is a buzzword for the opposition. An obscene word which can bring down governments
Accountability guarantees actions and decisions taken by public officials regarding government initiatives and respond to the needs of the community thereby contributing to better governance and poverty reduction. It also means their decisions and actions are subject to oversight so as to guarantee that their stated objectives are met.
Accountability also improves significantly the delivery of public services and this, in turn, builds public trust in the institution which, in turn, transcends into voter support during election.
It is proven that embracing the philosophy of accountability brings significant improvement in public service delivery and efficiency.
In Japan, the culture of accountability is very revered because government officials often apologise in public and step down after disasters during their watch or malfeasance.
We reiterate that we respect Prime Minister Hun Sen’s decisions and criticisms against those who called for the resignation or termination of the Kep governor after the collapse of the building in his province. However, the culture of accountability makes it incumbent for government officials to execute their responsibilities with diligence and not with impunity.
To strengthen public trust in the government requires a decisive leadership that can discipline and hold government officials accountable for what they have done.
We should not lose sight of what happened in Malaysia in 2017 and 2018 where a well-organised and well fuelled social media campaign in and outside of that country, created a loss of trust and faith in the government of the day, which had been in power for 60 years.
Because of loss of trust in the government and its leaders, they were booted out in the 2018 general election in May 2018.
Cambodia, in its election in July 2018, saw the ruling CPP winning all the seats contested, a clean sweep. However, with the clean sweep, Cambodia still failed to undertake serious reform measures across the country at all levels and the level of accountability to the leadership and the people is still debatable.
Many observers note that the culture of dismissing from office for lack of accountability and responsibility or acts of malfeasance only contributes to more such acts because they are considered as “untouchable” and their positions are safe, wherever they may be posted, some with promotions, while others receive desk jobs with the same positions and perks.
The culture of accountability must be implemented to build trust and win the hearts and minds of people, lest, the political turmoil created by the then opposition still resonates among the Malaysian people even though the then ruling elites have been toppled and a slew of court charges are being daily thrown at them.
The same simply cannot and must not be allowed to happen in Cambodia – for Cambodia, the ruling party and the people’s sakes.