Hun Sen Defends Effort to Reduce Poverty

Challenging critics of the government’s record on poverty alleviation, Prime Minister Hun Sen said Thursday that Cambodia is far better off if compared with the state of the country after the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979.

Speaking on national radio during a visit to a pagoda inauguration ceremony in Kandal prov­ince, Hun Sen said certain as­pects of the fight against poverty were not yet “satisfactory.”

But the government’s record on constructing schools, Bud­dhist pagodas and roads was, so far, acceptable, Hun Sen said.

“I wonder why they say that Cambodia acts for so long [but] keeps getting poorer and poorer,” Hun Sen said.

“If they compare with other countries, that is one thing. But not if they compare with 1979. There was nothing poorer than 1979,” Hun Sen said. “If [Cam­bo­dia] is poorer than 1979, they will all be dead,” he said.

Reflecting on how Cambodians were forced to wear black-colored clothes during the 1975 to 1979 regime, Hun Sen said people now wear colorful clothes.

Buddhist monks also have more than one robe, Hun Sen said, adding that some 5,000 teachers are recruited annually to teach the nation’s children.

Both the Sam Rainsy Party and Funcinpec have attacked Hun Sen’s record on poverty reduction, blaming the country’s ap­pallingly high poverty figures on of­ficial neglect and corruption.

Some 36 percent of Cambo­dia’s estimated 12.3 million population live on an income equal to less than $1 per day.

Despite the visible signs of a wealthy elite in Phnom Penh and other major towns, the annual in­come of the Cambodia population, per head, is less than $300.

On Thursday, 30 teachers from Kompong Thom province asked the Education Ministry to force the provincial education department to pay overtime owed them for the past nine months.

High school teachers are paid around $0.12 per hour of extra teaching, while junior school teachers are paid $0.06, the Cambodian Independent Teach­ers’ Association said in a statement.

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