About $1.7 million in Chinese aid money to the government will be used to renovate a Phnom Penh military hospital, officials confirmed Tuesday.
The money, given as grant aid, will be used to renovate one five-story building, and to improve drainage and roads at Preah Ketoh Mealia Military Hospital near Wat Phnom, hospital director Keo Try said.
During a visit earlier this year by Chinese Defense Minister Chi Haotian, China pledged $3.7 million in aid for this year. The donation, which was more than the government expected, was followed almost immediately by a request by Prime Minister Hun Sen for a $12.5 million loan to help demobilize the country’s bloated military.
Co-Minister of Defense Prince Sisowath Sirirath said about $1.7 million of the $3.7 million has been authorized to fix the 70-year-old hospital. Most of the aid will be used for construction equipment, he said.
“It is too old,” he said. “It needs to be renovated.”
Renovation of the hospital, a series of dilapidated French-colonial era buildings, will begin in November, Prince Sirirath said, but he did not know when the work would be completed.
“The military hospital needs to have better conditions for the patients,” he said. “Poor people need it very much because it has a cheap price compared to other civilian hospitals in Phnom Penh.”
The number of soldiers at the hospital will also be reduced, he said, as part of the government’s plan to demobilize 15,000 soldiers this year.
About 450 of the hospital’s more than 1,000 staff and soldiers stationed there will be demobilized this year, he said. Most of those 450 are disabled, chronically ill or nearing the age of retirement, he said.
The government had plans to give each of them $1,200 to adjust to civilian life and relocate them to their home provinces, but that is unlikely to happen now, Keo Try said.
The government and the hospital are waiting to hear about aid from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, which has not yet distributed the funds necessary to give the soldiers the $1,200 demobilization package, he said.
Instead, Prince Sirirath said demobilization pay would likely be around $240 in cash. Those leaving the hospital could also be given options beside cash, like cows, land or motorbikes, he said. “If we give them money, the cash will be gone [soon], with nothing left afterward,” he said. “Some have nothing [already].”