Prime Minister Hun Sen over the weekend urged the ministries of Health and Education to prevent land swaps involving the country’s hospitals and schools.
A rash of land swaps, involving centrally-located government properties being handed over to private developers in exchange for less-valuable outlying land, have swept the country in recent years as land prices have skyrocketed.
The written statement by Hun Sen, which was broadcast on TVK, CTN, Bayon, and Apsara television Saturday and Sunday, is one of the first occasions that the premier has publicly condemned the practice.
“Recently there are middlemen running affairs to swap schools and hospitals,” said a TVK announcer, reading from Hun Sen’s statement Saturday. “Please, your Excellencies, take action to stop it,” he said.
Hun Sen added in his statement that it was crucial to keep schools and hospitals near population centers.
“Such swaps would make…our people travel far to schools and hospitals,” the announcer added.
Hun Sen’s statement did not name specific schools or hospitals under threat of relocation, nor did it name any of the alleged “middlemen” who may be involved at the two Funcinpec-controlled ministries.
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said Monday that the government restricts state-owned property swaps to institutions that can be moved without harming the communities they are meant to serve.
“We could only swap prisons, police, soldiers headquarters. We cannot move schools, hospitals away from people, students,” he said.
Funcinpec’s Education Minister Kol Pheng and Secretary of State Pith Chamnan could not be reached for comment. Funcinpec Minister of Health Nuth Sokhom also could not be reached for comment Monday.
Mam Bun Heng, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Health, said that he was aware of the prime minister’s directive, but did not know which hospitals were involved in the swap schemes.
“I don’t know which institution,” he said, referring further questions to individual hospital managers.
“Please ask the different institutions,” he said.
Soy Yen, inspector general for the Ministry of Education, said he had been appointed head of a committee to investigate the issue.
“We will hold a meeting [today] to talk about measures to investigate which schools, and who runs the affairs,” he said.
He added that such swaps were conducted in secret, and he wasn’t sure who was responsible.