Sorn Sokna has received 15 gold medals from the government for his contributions to construction projects, and says he is hoping for more.
The vice chairman of petroleum giant Sokimex Co Ltd, who holds the honorary title “Oknha,” garnered his collection of National Construction Medals over the past 13 years by spending more than $300,000 building roads, schools and pagodas for the country, he said Monday.
“Recently a lot of humanitarians have been given medals for their hard work in taking part in social development and have paid their own money for construction,” Sorn Sokna explained.
Over August and September, the government awarded some 126 medals to those who undertook services and construction projects, according to the Royal Gazette, a bulletin published weekly by the Council of Ministers.
The medals, which went to government officials, businessmen and even Buddhist monks, mostly recognized sizable financial contributions to construction projects.
Sorn Sokna explained that spending $3,000 to $5,000 earns a bronze medal, spending more than $5,000 is worth silver and $10,000 earns gold.
He said medal recipients may be suggested by ministries, but must be authorized by Prime Minister Hun Sen.
So Sovann, director general of So Sovann Import-Export and Transport Co, Ltd, said the three gold medals he received were his due reward.
He said that he spent nearly $200,000 building schools and restoring the Chamber of Commerce building in Phnom Penh last year.
“No one will help with construction if their hard work is discouraged or ignored,” So Sovann said. “The medal is just a way to encourage us to continue our humanitarianism.”
Tith Sam Aun, chief monk of Loeuk Dek district, Kandal province, said his four medals, including a gold construction medal, were hard-earned.
He said his efforts to construct the pagodas that won him the gold medal were made on behalf of the country and the Buddhist faith.
He added that there was no conflict between earning medals and being a monk, explaining that “rich monks” and laymen alike need encouragement.
Ratanakkiri Deputy Provincial Governor Bou Lam, holder of two silver medals and one bronze medal for government service, concurred.
“The government is like our parents,” he said, adding that he was given the medals for his hard work and is scheduled to receive an additional medal for construction.
“When children study well, the parents would buy a motorbike or car to encourage children to continue to study hard to get good results,” he said.
Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay—who along with fellow opposition parliamentarians attempted to return service medals awarded to them in 2002—said the bar should be set higher in deciding the criteria for the national accolades.
He noted that building projects that earn medals for their backers are often used to curry favor among voters.
Some projects, such as schools and bridges, bear the names of high-ranking officials such as Hun Sen or Senate President Chea Sim, Son Chhay said.
“What is the purpose of government medals? If it is to encourage the people to do good deeds, this ignores the poor people…. We want to encourage the poor and honest people, not just the rich and corrupt,” he said.
Son Chhay said Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association President Rong Chhun and Mam Sonando of Beehive Radio, both of whom are incarcerated following public criticism of Hun Sen over border issues, deserve medals as “poor and honest people.”