A Land of Million Titles
Recently, more Titles were handed over to supreme monks and high-ranking officials in a ceremony in the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh. With all the respect, I have my doubts what is the meaning of all these titles? Are they useful, really needed for the Khmer society? My opinion: it is really not necessary. When you have done many good things for the people, people and history will judge you wisely. If you just organize own ceremony to give yourself and your close connected people the “strange and hardly to pronounce” titles, it is somehow meaningless.
I was recently in a workshop outside the country and my fellow participant from Laos addressed me (as a joke) H.E. Sophanna. I laughed, thanked and replied to him that currently there are too many Excellencies in Cambodia and it seems that everybody is an Excellency and really means nothing; the whole room was caught with big laugh. So, it tells us a lot, why people spontaneously laugh on this matter.
I remembered that during the Sihanouk’s reign from 1953 to 1970, there were very few Excellencies (in the rank of Head of State, Prime Minister, State Minister or Minister) and Oknhas (I do not know how to translate, but the title was given to extra-ordinary or generous people who have done a great deal for the society in term of providing money or building schools or infrastructure etc.). Those titles were really prestigious and the people who hold this, should be really honored. During the war 1970-75, we observed to see more Excellencies and Oknhas; it is not much worthy as before.
During the Khmer Rouge regime, 1975-79, they abolished all the titles: all people must be equal. They addressed each other as “comrade”. But one comrade could dictate the death or the life of other comrade on the spot. Injustice and inequality remained. This title was used also after Pol Pot was ousted in January 1979 by the new socialist regime till the end of 80th. Then, with the reform and a new constitution of “State Cambodia”, people start to use “His Excellency” only to very few high ranking government officials, also during the negotiation with other warring factions. After the first national election in 1993, organized by UNTAC, there were more Excellencies to address since the government was bigger by including new officials from other parties. As the government is growing bigger and bigger from election to election, more “Excellencies” needed to be given. Oknha and Neak Oknhas (Sir or Lord?) are starting to rise as well, mostly given to business people, provided that they have contributed in cash or in kind of U$ 100,000 for the state or the society. Many business people choose these titles to make them look more powerful and easier to deal with custom officials, low ranking officials or ordinary people. I observe that most of them are “thefts of the nation”, because they often use their (bought) title to commit wrong doings by grabbing lands from poor and powerless people, by illegally logging the forests, smuggling, by not paying taxes properly etc. and the list could go on and on.
Recently, there is a tendency to acquire Dr. Title, though most of them just “bought” it (the thesis was written by someone else against cash payment). In the government or even business sector, I could not find out who does not have Dr. Title, even though they mostly have never ever visited any university. One person could have all the titles possible: His Excellency, Dr., Neak Oknha………. It is really amazing and it pushes me to write this article for the sake of information sharing, discussion and exchange of ideas. In addition, as a small nation with small active army, we have too many Generals (2,000 or more or nobody knows really how many?).
And this is not enough. Recently they create other higher titles as you could read in the article below of the Cambodia Daily. If we currently do not have million of elephants, we at least have million of meaningless or even harmful titles.