Cambodia should examine the merit and sources of income of wealthy people before deciding to grant them former honorary titles, as many are involved in corrupt activities, political analysts said this week after Prime Minister Hun Sen has set up a working group to deal with the problem.
The title of “Oknha” – which means noble or lord – is granted by royal decree to civilians who contribute at least US $ 500,000 to the Cambodian government.
Many of those who hold the title of nobility have amassed vast fortunes through successful business ventures in this Southeast Asian country. Some have used the coveted status to allow or cover up corruption, participate in sex scandals and claim immunity from prosecution after the commission of crimes.
In the past, “Oknha” title tycoons have dishonored themselves in the eyes of ordinary Cambodians because they use their titles to protect their own interests instead of contributing to society, said outspoken political analyst Kim Sok. in Finland.
Some of them have engaged in land grabbing from the poor, illegal logging and sand dredging, destruction of natural resources and drug trafficking.
âThis is a very bad example for our society,â he said. âThis type of Oknha reflects very bad leadership. Now people say the most illegitimate [leadership] the role is that of the prime minister, and the worst title is that of Oknha with his declining values. “
Political analyst Meas Ny said the government should examine the sources of wealth of prominent figures before they are awarded the title of Oknha to avoid conspiracy charges, given their track record of dishonesty in business ventures.
“Suppose I acquire the title of Oknha, but I got my money through money laundering or I was involved in drug trafficking or illegal logging, then I gave this money to the state to get the title of Oknha, âhe said. âIt could mean that the government conspired with me while I was engaging in illegal acts. This is about the ethics of Oknha’s career.
‘A noble moral example’
Unofficial research places the number of Oknha and Neak Oknha of higher status at no less than 1,000.
Since 1994, after Cambodia held its first democratic elections supported by the United Nations, philanthropists who gave $ 100,000 or more to the state could be referred to by the government as the Oknha. By the end of 2017, the price of the title had quintupled.
Meas Ny welcomed the recent decision of Prime Minister Hun Sen to establish an inter-ministerial working group to manage title issues and to review the legal process for granting and withdrawing honorary status.
The political analyst said the group should consider an individual’s qualifications, profile and income sources before deciding to grant the title of Oknha.
“We [also] need a transparent mechanism to provide this title [and] a control mechanism [because] we see some tycoons abusing their roles, âhe said.
Cambodia’s Court of Appeal last week released powerful businessman Oknha Kith Theang, who was arrested, convicted and sentenced two years ago for being a leader in a drug-centric distribution network. in the capital Phnom Penh. He was initially sentenced to four years in prison, but the higher court reduced his prison term to two years and quietly released him.
He has used his wealth and powerful connections over the past two years to reduce his time in prison to just two weeks, while spending the rest of the time in a hospital, claiming he was ill.
Individuals must demonstrate good character and integrity before being awarded Oknha titles, Kim Sok said.
The individual should be “a person who sets a noble moral example in everyday life and who is a role model in society, and not a person who ‘rapes’ people and then pursues them,” he said.
Some tycoons and Oknha have seen their assets in the United States frozen by the United States government, while others continue to use the money to buy properties abroad.
At the same time, there are virtuous individuals who have donated legally earned money to social and humanitarian causes.
Reported by the Khmer service of RFA. Translated by Sum Sok Ry. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.