The Ghost Power
“When [public servants salaries] going through bank accounts, ghosts do not know how to get the money; thus there is no need to look for ghost officials, ghost soldiers, ghost police officers, or any ghosts. It requires a passbook, and ghosts cannot hold the passbook.”
Premier Hun Sen, 17 February, 2014
«បានន័យថា ខ្លួនខ្មោច ខ្លួននៅទទួលយកប្រាក់ខែ ដូច្នេះ លើកនេះយើងចាប់ខ្មោចម្ដង។ មានន័យថា បញ្ហាសាមញ្ញទេ គឺអ្នកដែលរក្សាក្របខ័ណ្ឌខ្មោចនេះទុក ហើយយកលុយរបស់ជាតិ យកដាក់ហោប៉ៅខ្លួនឯង អ្នកនោះត្រូវតែប្រឈមមុខនឹងការកេងយកផលប្រយោជន៍ដោយខុសច្បាប់»។
Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) president Om Yentieng, 17 August, 2014, Radio Free Asia
The ACU president seems to disagree with the premier who boasts they can stop ghost public servants at the bank, despite the latter’s claimed ability to communicate with King Father’s spirit at the latter’s cremation. Om Yentieng may see the ghosts are too cunning to let any passbooks stand between them and the money. Hence, he moves the battlefield from the bank to workplaces.
It is uncertain how or why the ACU president comes to believe the premier is wrong. It is quite possible the premier’s 29 January directive that all public servants’ salaries go through their bank account is not fully implemented. If not, why not? But again, this is not the first time his directives are ignored.
Or, the direct credit system alone does not, or cannot, work to starve the ghost public servants who are so much appealed to the earthy attraction of money. It can certainly make it more convenient to access the pay. (A Ghostlike Reform, Pseng-Pseng, 28ii14).
The ghost power is demonstrated in the latest case of jailing three villagers in Chantrea district of Svay Rieng province over a 64 hectare land dispute between at least 50 local families and a military police (MP) officer reportedly from Phom Penh. The case has been ongoing for more than a decade; and obviously, nobody has bothered to report it to the premier, who assures those who care to believe him that none is to be locked up for any land dispute.
The MP officer wins the case incognito. The supreme court rules the case in his favour, but Supreme Court vice-president Khoem Pan refuses to talk about it. Commune police chief in Chantrea Has Siyet says he could not remember the case details. Svay Rieng provincial prosecutor Hing Bunchea, who carries out the arrests, says he just follows the court order.
This MP officer is treated like a ghost. Though they refer to him as Soem Chhean, not many know, or are prepared to reveal, his identity. Svay Rieng provincial MP commander San Bun Than hangs up when asked if he knows Soem Chhean. Phnom Penh MP commander, Major General Roth Sreang, denies Chhean is in his unit. National MP spokesman Kheng Tito pleads ignorance, saying he is unable to tell if Chhean is an MP officer at all. It seems this ghost is so formidable that he must be under an unmentionable patronage.
Hence, back to his search for ghosts in all government workplaces, the ACU president would need all the luck he can muster. He is dealing with ghosts who are usually invisible; and worst still, their unmentionable patrons may lie beyond the ACU reach as well.
Still, some little ghosts will be caught and made an example of. The ACU game is to be seen doing and achieving something – just enough to intimidate small potatoes and to keep the gullible longing for reforms thrilled, without doing any real damage to the patronage system that has benefited a few so much for so long.
Ung Bun Ang
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(Pseng-Pseng is published on the first, tenth, and twentieth day of every month. Previous issues are archived at pseng-pseng.blogspot.com)