Vei Samnang: From career civil servant to Kampong Speu governor

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Kampong Speu provincial governor Vei Samnang speaks at the provincial hall in September. KAMPONG SPEU PROVINCIAL ADMINISTRATION

Kampong Speu provincial governor Vei Samnang was born in 1974 into a family supported by his father’s work as a civil servant in Kanh Chriech commune’s Prey Pdao village of Prey Veng province’s Kanh Chriech district, but his family was forced to move to Kampong Thom province in 1979-1980 after the Khmer Rouge was overthrown.

Samnang was just a school boy back then, but his childhood recollections are of a life of uncertainty and constantly being on the move until reaching the relative calm of his father’s hometown, Kampong Thom, where he was able to begin school again regularly and focus on studying until he graduated in 1991.

“Immediately after graduating from high school, I took the entrance exam at the Prek Leap National Institute of Agriculture and attended school there until I finished my degree in 1994.

“At the time, Cambodia was transitioning from dependence to independence with help from the UN and the country still had a lot of unresolved political problems.

“There was obviously going to be a lot of work available staffing the new government so I signed a contract to work for the government for five years after graduation and I served in the department of forestry, as it was called back then,” Samnang tells The Post.

While working as an official at the forestry department, Samnang didn’t just rest on his laurels and collect his salary. Instead – in his spare time – he began to study for a law degree at Build Bright University and for a master’s degree at the Royal University of Law and Economics (RULE).

As the old saying goes, education has no age limits and there’s always more to learn no matter who you are. As a provincial governor, Samnang is in the upper echelons of government officialdom and yet he is currently pursuing a PhD at the Royal Academy of Cambodia.

“Scholarship, research, studying, academia – those are the sorts of things that are actually fun for me because I love learning. So the time I spend working on my PhD also doubles as my leisure time,” he says.

Even though Samnang has risen to a higher rank or office than his father ever achieved, he says he still thinks of him as his primary role model and considers himself to be following in his footsteps.

“My father was a civil servant – and I am too – even though I’m a governor. What is the purpose of a leader other than to serve the people? True leadership is service to the people and the nation above all else,” he says.

Prime Minister Hun Sen decided to appoint Samnang as the deputy governor of Kampong Speu, putting him on a fast track to a top leadership role. He then served in that position for one year before his promotion to governor in 2016 under a royal decree.

Samnang says he loves the job he has today even though being a governor has often turned out to be simultaneously challenging and frustrating. He says it is ultimately satisfying when he sees how his decisions, plans and ideas are really helping people.

He says he has no ambitions to achieve any higher office than the one he has currently, but whether he moves onto one isn’t for him to decide anyways. If the prime minister tells him he is needed somewhere, he says, then that is where he will go.

“As I said, whatever my rank, I will always be a humble civil servant like my father, and if [Hun Sen] orders me to move offices or change titles, whether it’s a promotion or demotion – who am I to possibly argue?” Samnang avers.

Samnang – who has been married since 2003 and is the father to one daughter and three sons – says he has his hands full managing Kampong Speu for now because managing a province is like managing a family with many children.

“Each child demands that you buy them their favourite toy. The younger ones like dolls, the older ones motorcycles and all of them love phones.

“But as any working father with a large family can tell you, it is impossible to fulfil all of their demands and still put food on the table and keep the lights on at night.

Therefore, he says, what has to be undertaken is a balancing of interests, wants and needs for the greater good and then explaining those decisions to the family – that is, the officials and the public and persuading them to work to support and implement those policies.

“After all, I do very much need the public’s cooperation and the officials’ technical expertise and skills to get anything done. One man or woman on their own in this world is nothing and any decision or plan I make alone without the agreement and support of the people and help of my officials is no better than a foolish daydream.

“But when you have a nation of men and women who choose to work together towards the same goals? That’s everything – and with them – you can accomplish anything,” Samnang concludes.