Prime Minister Hun Sen donated $40,000 to the Cambodian Higher Education Association during a Council of Ministers meeting Tuesday, sparking criticism that he was rewarding political support from the group, which has strongly criticized the opposition.
In October, Cambodia Higher Education Association President Seng Phally said he was planning protests at Phnom Penh International Airport if opposition leader Sam Rainsy returned to Cambodia.
“This is a humanitarian donation,” said government adviser Chea Chamroeun, who is rector of the Chamroeun University of Poly-Technology and was present at the meeting.
“[Hun Sen] didn’t encourage the association to oppose the Sam Rainsy Party,” Chea Chamroeun said, adding that $30,000 of the sum was earmarked for a library, while the remainder was allocated for no specific purpose.
Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay said that the donation was typical of Hun Sen’s favoritism toward organizations that serve his personal and political interests rather than social welfare.
Seng Phally declined comment.
On Wednesday, Hun Sen made a further foray into the world of education at the inauguration of Svay Rieng University. He asked National Police Commissioner Hok Lundy and Svay Rieng Provincial Governor Chieng Am, who both helped finance the project, to offer free education at what will be the province’s first university.
Hun Sen’s brother and Kompong Cham provincial Governor Hun Neng said he had also contributed to the school, which cost almost $1 million.
“We built the university because Svay Rieng is a poor province, and the people cannot go to Phnom Penh to study,” he said.
“This morning we collected $840,000 to sponsor more than 400 students to study for free for four years for a bachelor’s degree,” he said, adding that the money was collected from businessmen.
Center for Social Development President Chea Vannath voiced concern about political influence in Cambodia’s education system.
“The politicians continue to use the schools and students,” she said.
“You teach them the wrong way, and those people will become the leaders of the country, and the vicious cycle will repeat itself.”