Hun Sen Sa’ang High School should have a music class with traditional Khmer instruments. It should have a small farm. It should have 20 planters and a remodeled toilet.
But it doesn’t, said Heng You, a geography teacher at the school in Kandal province’s Sa’ang district.
The repairs and supplies were listed among books, paper and roof repairs in a $4,473 school
improvement budget, funded through the Asian Development Bank. The missing items, totaling more than 10 percent of the budget, have Heng You and other teachers accusing headmaster Chhy Kong of siphoning money from school coffers.
“This irregular activity is not only happening at Hun Sen Sa’ang High School but at every high school in this district,” said Heng You, who has spoken with other teachers in her role of vice president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association.
Another teacher, Kourn Ngourn, said the headmaster always deflects questions about the missing supplies. “Whenever someone accuses him, he calls on his followers,” he said. “Now I and the vice president and other officials are not OK with him.”
The ADB designated $20 million from international donors for a three-year Priority Action Program—which uses money outside the normal government budget for school improvements—to offset the costs of teacher salaries and school equipment nationwide, Urooj Malik, Cambodia’s ADB representative, said by telephone from the Philippines last week.
But the money is distributed through the government, which has led some educators to accuse their leaders of corruption.
Urooj Malik would not speculate about the allegations at Hun Sen Sa’ang, but said ADB’s Manila office investigates all complaints and is reviewing the program’s effectiveness for the next four years of funding.
The program, which started in 2000, is difficult to regulate, as it now includes 7,000 schools, said Choy Aum, general director of administration and finance at the Ministry of Education.
“I acknowledge that there are some potholes in enforcing PAP’s budget,” he said. Although he couldn’t elaborate on specific schools, Choy Aum said headmasters caught with faulty accounting would be singled out or removed from their position.
Im Sethy, secretary of state at the Ministry of Education, acknowledged that the Priority Action Program has some cash flow problems, but he accused critics of trying to stir up trouble.
“Some people work for political parties, especially the so-called free teachers,” he said, referring to CITA, which has about 2,500 members across the country. The government employs about 100,000 teachers nationwide.
Reached by telephone, Chhy Kong denied Heng You’s allegations. “I have clear reports for all the school incomes and payments,” he said.
Officials from the Ministry of Education and the Kandal provincial Education Department visited the high school, he said. “I would be removed as school principal if I had participated in corruption or acted unlawfully,” he said.
Chhy Kong said Heng You and other CITA members are trying to defame him, and said they have no evidence.
But Heng You couldn’t understand how the school could still be waiting for items listed in the 2002 budget—especially three traditional stringed musical instruments that together cost about $12.50.
“When I asked him about the budget, in relation to the musical instruments, he said he bought one for $10, but I didn’t see it,” she said. “We don’t have a music teacher. The school headmaster teaches the music class.”
Chhy Kong uses paper lessons to teach, Heng You said. “He cannot sing or play an instrument,” she said. “His skill is literature.”
The school budgeted about $300 for improvements to the toilet, which has not been repaired, Heng You said. Another $145 was earmarked for an agriculture program, but there is no plantation on the compound. About $100 was designated for 20 planter boxes.
Reporters visiting the school saw two planter boxes with no trees. No crops were seen growing. Earlier, Chhy Kong did not allow reporters to stay on school grounds and demanded written authorization from the Ministry of Education to visit the school.