Prime Minister Hun Sen has responded to critics who have expressed dissatisfaction with the government over the appointment of Dith Tina, a mining engineer, to the post of Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, given that he has never worked specifically in the agricultural sector.

At the graduation ceremony for the students of the Royal University of Law and Economics on November 1, the prime minister gave a public response to the criticism of the government’s decision to appoint Tina as agriculture minister.

“Some people said there were many agricultural officials who could be appointed as Minister of Agriculture, but we appointed a mining engineer as agricultural minister. It was good that the Minister of Agriculture hit back and said: ‘Oh, do you know about agriculture? You know all about it then? What exactly is agriculture? Please speak clearly, otherwise young people will reprimand you,’” he said.

Hun Sen said that the agricultural sector is very broad and does not consist of farming alone.

“Do those who criticise the appointment have comprehensive knowledge of agriculture?” he asked.

He described critics of the issue as lacking an understanding of the true definition of leadership and added that even as prime minister he could not know everything about the country, but what good leaders do is rely on the expertise of their subordinates.

“With leadership, the important thing is to know how to use the officials under your control so that they put their knowledge and skills to work for you. That’s the problem with this criticism. I’m not reprimanding the analysts or advisers, but I will remind them not to rush to judgement and think that only people who have agricultural skills are suitable for the position,” he said.

Heng Kimhong, head of the Cambodian Youth Network (CYN)’s research and advocacy programme, said he agreed with Hun Sen on Tina’s appointment.

He said it was not necessary to have skills in a specific field, rather the leaders of a ministry or a department must be skilled in the area of leadership.

“I still emphasise the factor of leadership: whether the individual has ability as a leader and can fulfil the functions of leadership. Has Dith Tina performed these duties well? Was it the quality of his work [as secretary of state at the Ministry of Mines and Energy] that got him promoted to the important role of minister?,” he asked rhetorically.

Cambodia Reform Party founder Ou Chanrath said that he agreed with Hun Sen’s statements on the subject for the most part; however, he said the minister should ideally not be someone with expertise too far outside of the field of agriculture.

In his remarks at the ceremony at the agriculture ministry on October 17 when he took office, Tina said that he placed priority on the interests of the Cambodian people and that although he did not have experience in the agricultural sector, he had already served as a senior official at the mines ministry and the Ministry of Commerce.

“I will help support farmers and the agricultural sector in Cambodia so that it will be prosperous and especially focus on some important tasks, especially gaining a better understanding of the markets and consumer demands for agricultural produce.

Ung Dipola, director-general for mineral resources at the mines ministry, vouched for Tina’s qualifications to lead the agriculture ministry, affirming that he is a highly-responsible leader who will place the common good and national interests above all else.

“He is determined and meticulous while also being gentle in his demeanour. During his tenure as the secretary of state at the mines ministry, he respected the ideas and comments from the technical experts and made decisions without ever abusing his power.

“As a policy maker he would make his opinions known while still allowing each section to carry out their work with a high degree of autonomy,” he said.

Dipola added that Tina is a committed leader who is determined to overcome obstacles and who shares his knowledge and experience with the younger generation.

“We see him as a down-to-earth person who is honest, friendly and helpful. He’s regarded as a role model and a leader,” he said.

Yos Monirath, former spokesman for the mines ministry, echoed Dipola’s remarks, saying Tina has “great potential” as a leader, is highly-commited and shows initiative.

He commented on Tina’s ability and willingness to work as a team regardless of ranks or positions, and that he is keen to take action as well as responsibility for the outcomes of his decisions.

Moreover, Monirath claimed that Tina’s personality is well-suited to leadership positions and that he has the requisite level of education, seniority and work experience to be a minister.

“No university produces people for the job of minister or prime minister. These are jobs for politicians. As long as they have leadership skills, they can be appointed as ministers or secretaries of state. So his [Tina’s] role is really that of a policymaker for each of the ministry’s specialised departments and to make the ministry run smoothly,” he said.

However, Monirath said people should just wait and see what the outcome of Tina’s work actually was before judging it and that time will answer any questions anyone has regarding Tina’s leadership.

On October 14, the National Assembly unanimously voted to appoint Tina as agriculture minister after Hun Sen removed Veng Sakhon from office and reappointed him as Minister Attached to the Prime Minister.

Tina is an accomplished scholar who has studied both in Cambodia and in France and holds multiple degrees: Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in physics from the University of Orsay in France and a degree in mine engineering from France’s National School of Minerals.