The Ministry of Education will send teams to six provinces to investigate possible land swaps involving public schools, the ministry’s inspector general Soy Nhen said Tuesday.
The investigation comes in response to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s call over the weekend for the Health and Education ministries to prevent swaps involving hospitals and schools.
Hun Sen said in a statement that unidentified “middlemen” were working to swap schools and hospitals, and called on the two Funcinpec-controlled ministries of health and education to put a stop to it.
As land prices have skyrocketed in recent years, government officials have engaged in controversial land swaps with private firms, who receive government properties in prime locations in return for building new facilities on significantly cheaper outlying land. The swaps, have, so far, not involved schools and hospitals.
Soy Nhen said that a special committee, which he heads, met Tuesday to discuss the prime minister’s request and plans to meet again today. “We have some clues,” Soy Nhen said, but declined to elaborate.
On Oct 1, one of the Education Ministry’s investigation teams will be dispatched to Siem Reap, Oddor Meanchey and Banteay Meanchey provinces and the other team will go to Mondolkiri, Ratanakkiri and Stung Treng provinces, Soy Nhen said.
Phnom Penh Municipal Education Director Um Hoeung, who could not be reached Tuesday, is in charge of investigating swaps involving public schools in the capital, he added.
Health Minister Nuth Sokhom could not be reached Tuesday, and the ministry’s secretaries of state Ouk Monna and Heng Taykry said they were too busy to comment.
Banteay Meanchey Governor Om Sum said he was not aware of any government land swaps involving schools or hospitals in his province, but welcomed the investigation. “It is a very good move if they can find some,” he said.
Stung Treng Provincial Governor Loy Sophat said that he had heard Hun Sen’s warning through the media, but claimed that no land swapping of schools or hospitals has occurred in his province.
Siem Reap Provincial Governor Sou Phirin hung up the phone when told of the Education Ministry’s inspection plan. The provincial governors of Ratanakkiri, Mondolkiri and Oddar Meanchey could not be reached Tuesday.
(Additional reporting by James Welsh)