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Institutional surgery needed to rejuvenate the government

KT/Khem Sovannara

Even though the Prime Minister has said openly that a cabinet reshuffle will take place soon, that several ministers were under performing, the lackadaisical attitude of some ministers still exist.

Starting with the justice system, a well-known army general was accused in a high profile murder case, arrested and detained for orchestrating the murder of a business rival in full view of witnesses and on CCTV, a case where the judge himself was arrested and charged for corruption but the accused roams the city free.

This is exactly the case of impunity which the people loath and which the opposition will seize on to demonise the government. The Justice Ministry must be given a complete shake-up to make it accountable to the public, ensure that justice is served fairly and equitably.

The rich cannot walk free by paying their way out of trouble and it is deemed as settlement so case closed. The poor, if committing the same crime, will be rotting in jail because they could not afford legal representation, do not know the law or afford to buy their way out of trouble.

Peace and stability cannot be sustained unless social justice prevails.

The Ministry of Health has been accused of not taking effective, affirmative, consistent actions to prevent and control the outbreak of COVID-19. An additional $30 million fund was allocated to the ministry to purchase equipment, train medical staff and raise public awareness. However, strategic thinking remains very disappointing.

Questions are arising concerning whether the Ministry of Health has a contingency plan to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic when signals were already flying all over that South East Asia was either under reporting and or was not adequately equipped to screen and test people to identify infected patients or possibly sick patients.

The almost callous attitude towards inbound passengers by air, road and water, has seen three imported COVID-19 victims and worse still, news of the third victim was already in social media before the MoH called for late evening press conference to announce this. Everyday thousands of passengers are coming into Cambodia by air, sea and land. Where is the screening? Is the MoH waiting for major outbreak in Cambodia before they act?

The Water Resources Ministry and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries have not taken effective measures to mitigate the impacts of severe drought. Prolonged drought is going to continue plaguing the nation. Why can’t these two ministries come up with a concrete master plan to develop a smart irrigation system that can mitigate the risks from drought?

Cambodia has the mighty Mekong River with relatively flat and fertile land for agriculture, but annually it still imports around one million tons of various vegetables from neighbouring countries. There must be something wrong with the leadership. No massive irrigation projects are in the pipeline despite the creation of the Water Resources Ministry.

Next is the Rural Development Ministry, which is in a pathetic state. This is one of the most important and critical ministries and yet, we hardly hear anything about them. Rural development means empowering the masses to alleviate themselves from poverty through both hard and soft infrastructure development.

Yet this ministry might as well not exist, as there is nothing about the ministry to report on, claim credit for or actual implementation of  any rural development projects.

The Ministry of Mines and Energy is another, which needs to be shaken up. There are public concerns over the environmental impacts of sand dredging and extractive industry, especially the mining industry. The lack of transparency within the ministry when it comes to the procedure of granting investment licences and revenue collection in the mining industry is of great concern.

Several more underperforming ministries are not mentioned here due to the limitations of space. We believe that our Prime Minister is well aware of the underperforming ministers and he will make a fair and just decision in the upcoming cabinet reshuffle. The era of begging for position without meritocracy must end. Do not use influence and wealth to get position and do not use position to generate wealth.

Given the rise of non-traditional security threats especially cybercrimes, terrorism and violent extremism in the region, Cambodia might need to better prepare for the future by creating an umbrella security institution to oversee and coordinate actions in response to emerging security risks. This could be in the form of a ministry for national security or a national security council to better prepare Cambodia to face any form of threats.

Coming to the current labour predicament and to deal with  economic pressures from the lack of supply of raw materials to the partial withdrawal of preferential trade scheme from the European Union, Cambodian labour unions should be united and take rational moves to sustain their employment opportunities. There should be a wage increase freeze for one or two years, depending on the situation. More incentives and/or subsidies should be given to specific industries that are hit by the crisis.

Living with uncertainty is the rule of nature. Cambodia needs to constantly reform in order to adapt to changes and build a generation of leadership that can build and lead a transformational and innovative team. Selfish individual interest, nepotism and corruption need to be eradicated.  Those government officials that do not comply with the key performance indicators should be replaced. The underperforming ministers should be asked to exit in honour. There is no time left. Urgent, precise surgical strike is required.

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