Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihamoni on Thursday appointed the former governor of Preah Sihanouk province as secretary of state to the Ministry of National Defense, days after he resigned over a fatal building collapse, drawing condemnation from observers who called the promotion a “slap in the face.”
On June 22, an Chinese-owned unlicensed seven-story building collapsed in the provincial capital Sihanoukville, killing 28 people and injuring 26—many of whom were construction workers sleeping on the second floor at the time of the incident.
Two days later, Preah Sihanouk provincial governor Yun Min announced his resignation expressing “deep regret” and “apologies” to the families of victims.
Yun Min said at the time that he had decided to step down “as a matter of responsibility for this incident,” and Prime Minister Hun Sen accepted his resignation in a post to Facebook, adding that he had also removed Nhim Vanda from his post as senior minister and first vice-chairman of the Committee for Natural Disaster Management due to his “lack of responsibility and lies.”
But on Thursday, King Norodom Sihamoni signed a royal decree appointing Yun Min to secretary of state to Cambodia’s Ministry of Defense and promoting him as a four-star general, despite anger from the public over his mishandling of the building collapse.
Yun Min accepted the new position, expressing thanks to Hun Sen “for this honor.”
Reports on Wednesday suggested Nhim Vanda had also been recently appointed as a government advisor, although this could not be independently confirmed by RFA.
Defense Minister Tea Banh defended Yun Min’s promotion on Thursday, saying the former governor is “entirely capable” of handling the job.
“Samdech Hun Sen also said Yun Min was not involved with the building collapse,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service, referring to the prime minister using an honorific title.
“Did he kick the building, leading to it collapsing and killing people? [He resigned because] he was saddened as a person who was responsible for the province.”
But analyst Lao Mong Hai said Yun Min’s promotion is “a slap in the face of the victims” of the weekend’s building collapse, calling instead for an investigation into his actions and prosecution.
“It is extremely unethical—the funerals are not even over, yet the government has promoted a person who was involved in the building collapse,” he said.
Cambodian Confederation of Unions president Rong Chhun told RFA that Hun Sen’s decision to appoint Yun Min to the Ministry of Defense would do little to address the problem of developers constructing buildings without permits when the officials who oversee them are not held accountable.
“We must find out the truth about whether the collapse was the result of corruption and, if so, we must prosecute those responsible according to the law,” he said, calling on Cambodia’s Anti-Corruption Unit to investigate the incident.
Anti-Corruption Unit chairman Om Yentieng was not immediately available for comment on Yun Min’s promotion, but CPP spokesman Sok Ey San told RFA that Hun Sen “has the right to appoint officials however he wishes.”
Call for action
Meanwhile, Minister of Land Management, Urban Planning, and Construction Chea Sophara wrote an open letter to Hun Sen on Thursday urging the prime minister to “take action against illegal buildings” in the country.
“I would like to request Samdech that in order to protect the lives and property of the people, as well as the quality of our buildings, please issue a few measures on hotels, condos, commercial buildings and other types of construction,” he said in the letter.
Among the measures Chea Sophara proposed to deal with illegal building construction were shutting off the electrical supply to sites, cutting off their water supply, refusing access to the city’s sewage system, rejecting permit applications, and banning marketing materials from offending developers.
Chinese investment has flowed into casinos, hotels, and real estate in Preah Sihanouk province and its largest town, Sihanoukville, turning the once sleepy seaside town into a flash point for Cambodians concerned about Chinese economic penetration of their country.
Cambodians complain about unscrupulous business practices, gangland violence, and unbecoming behavior by growing crowds of Chinese investors and tourists drawn to Sihanoukville and a nearby Chinese Special Economic Zone connected to Beijing’s Belt and Road global infrastructure initiative.
Last month Sihanoukville authorities shut down a Chinese-owned casino accused of polluting an adjacent beach following the casino’s defiance of orders to cease operations.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.