Prime Minister Hun Sen demanded in a speech Tuesday that Phnom Penh kindergarten schools in disrepair should be renovated and reopened for children rather than be given out in land swaps, as many other public buildings have.
Speaking at the inauguration ceremony of the Stung Meanchey bridge in Phnom Penh, Hun Sen tasked Municipal Governor Kep Chuktema and his district governors with inspecting the schools and making them child-friendly again.
“Don’t sell and don’t exchange all kindergarten schools even if they are old,” Hun Sen said to city authorities. “[You] have to keep all those schools because children need a place to play.”
Kep Chuktema said it would be difficult to complete the work the premier ordered as most of the capital’s 18 kindergarten schools are in disrepair and not functioning as schools, instead housing municipal employees.
“It is hard for municipal authorities to repair those schools to serve kids because inside those schools, our staff has been living for a long time and they refuse to move out,” he said. “If we want them to move out, we have to have compensation for them.”
He said, however, that although it lacks the money, the municipality would try to accelerate repairs in schools mid-year.
Municipal education department Director Oum Hoeurng said his department would provide technical assistance, adding that Phnom Penh has 62 kindergarten classes set up in primary schools.
Several state properties have been sold to private investors, often giving out valuable downtown real estate in exchange for compensation critics say is too low or for land on the outskirts of the city.
“A lot of property belongs to the state and is given out to private individuals without competitive bidding. It is corruption and it costs a lot of money,” SRP lawmaker Yim Sovann said, adding that the prime minister should focus on all state property, not just a few schools.
Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association, said he welcomed the prime minister’s comments.
“Young kids are buds. If we carefully take care of them, they grow well,” he said. “But our kids seem [to] get little care from the government compared to other countries.”