Prime Minister Hun Sen and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith have donated $20,000 and $5,000, respectively, to a former reporter for the Cambodia Daily who accused the management of the newspaper of “abandoning” him after he fell seriously ill due to diabetes.
Saing Soenthrith, who worked for 20 years as a journalist for the English language daily, received the donation via the government-affiliated Union of Journalist Federations of Cambodia (UJFC) at an event yesterday that one analyst suggested may have been an opportunity for the ruling party to score political points.
“I have tried to have [my diabetes] cured for nearly a year with financial support from local, international journalists and former Cambodia Daily reporters to raise money to clean my blood,” Soenthrith said.
The father of three undergoes dialysis twice a week and needs a kidney transplant, and has been unable to work since May last year, when he learned his kidneys were failing.
Speaking by phone yesterday, Soenthrith said he had lodged a complaint against the newspaper with the Labour Ministry over the rate of his sick pay – which stopped at the end of last year – as well as other severance entitlements.
Soenthrith said that he had also lodged a complaint at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. The Daily’s general manager, Douglas Steele, declined to discuss the details of the Labour Law complaint and said he was unaware of the case lodged with the court.
“I don’t anticipate having much to say on it other than if there’s been an act of generosity here, we are happy to see that,” Steele said.
Hun Sen routinely makes large donations – which dwarf his declared salary of $1,150 per month – in order to appear benevolent and win grassroots support, said social commentator Meas Ny, and in this case, some may question whether there was another motive still.
“Some of the public might see that it could affect the reputation of the Cambodia Daily, which the government perceives as an anti-government newspaper,” he said.
The optics of the donation, he added, are “that the Cambodia Daily cannot help its staff, so Hun Sen has to jump in and provide support”.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SHAUN TURTON