King Norodom Sihamoni issued a royal decree late on October 8 terminating embattled agriculture minister Veng Sakhon from his post at the request of Prime Minister Hun Sen, with Minister of Economy and Finance Aun Pornmoniroth temporarily put at the helm.
Pornmoniroth will lead the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and assume the role on top of his regular post until Sakhon’s successor has been appointed, according to Hun Sen’s letter made public later that day.
“The acting minister [Pornmoniroth] exercises all authority in accordance with the laws and regulations in force to direct and manage the ministry’s work, its subordinate units and officials, and any staff who are administrative agents under its supervision,” read the letter.
Prior to his removal, Sakhon had repeatedly been reprimanded by Hun Sen in public ceremonies. In February, at the closing ceremony of the Ministry of Interior’s annual meeting on its achievement and future directions, Hun Sen issued a sternly worded rebuke to Sakhon for being insufficiently committed to his role, and for refusing to cooperate with other ministries and relevant institutions.
“Sakhon, increase your cooperation. Among all of my ministers, the one known for refusing to cooperate with others is the agriculture minister,” Hun Sen said.
The premier urged all ministers to focus full-time on their positions, warning that it would not be difficult for him to terminate one from their post, with only 24 hours at the most needed to secure a royal decree to that effect.
Sakhon could not be reached for comment on October 9.
Sakhon was appointed as agriculture minister in 2016. He previously served as undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology from 1998 to 2004 and was promoted to secretary of state in 2004, a position he held until his ministerial appointment.
On October 8, a day prior to his dismissal, Sakhon said in his regular social media post that he and his colleagues were transiting through Thailand, en route to Cambodia after completing a one-week mission to Europe to discuss global food security and seek support for introducing European agricultural production standards.
On October 9, shortly after assuming his addition role as acting minister, Pornmoniroth issued an instruction to all units under the agricultural ministry to continue their work and protect all documents under its jurisdiction.
“The cabinet of the former minister shall maintain and protect all current documents in preparation for their handover to the cabinet of the new minister who will be appointed and take office,” he said.
He instructed Sakhon’s cabinet to transfer the ministry’s stamp to his office at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, saying he would assume responsibility for the stamp until a new minister has been officially appointed.
He said that should any documents require verification – or should a decision need to be made – agriculture ministry officials shall contact him.
Kin Phea, director of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said it is normal to replace government members in certain circumstances, if it improves public governance.
“People hope that the new minister will make significant changes in our agricultural sector,” he told The Post on October 9.