Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Hun Sen knocks Obama visit

Hun Sen knocks Obama visit

US first lady Michelle Obama talks with students at a school in Siem Reap on the weekend during her visit to the Kingdom
US first lady Michelle Obama talks with students at a school in Siem Reap on the weekend during her visit to the Kingdom. ETHAN HARFENIST

Hun Sen knocks Obama visit

Prime Minister Hun Sen took aim at Michelle Obama yesterday, accusing the US first lady of making false promises, while suggesting her visit last weekend was more about hopeful rhetoric rather than implementing concrete improvements in the country’s education sector.

During a speech at the National Institute of Education, Hun Sen told the US Embassy and USAID to make good on alleged scholarship promises and front some actual cash if they want to truly make an impact on education reform in Cambodia. The prime minister was referring to Obama’s visit to the country on Saturday, in which she met with 10 female students in Siem Reap to push the White House’s “Let Girls Learn” initiative.

“Her [Obama’s] mission is very good, but I suggest the United States should help completely and not play like this,” he said. “It is just playing around – it is not good. What if she chose 300 students? It would be death. I don’t have that money to give.”

Hun Sen’s comments came after Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron on Tuesday requested state university scholarships for the 10 girls, whose education through grade 12 is being funded by NGO Room to Read.

Hun Sen said that he provided each student $1,500 per year to go toward their four years at university, but mentioned he was under the impression the US was going to foot the bill for the girls’ education. Now, he said, the Cambodian Ministry of Education was left to pay for them.

“I thought the United States would give scholarships to those students until they complete university, but that’s not [the case],” Hun Sen said. “I had strongly hoped [that was the situation], but she just came here to choose people and then [left] it to the Ministry of Education.”

The prime minister stated that it was not his intention to slight the US, though he was concerned that the Let Girls Learn initiative was simply a way for the US to take credit for reform while publicly critiquing the Cambodian government.

“I am sorry … but this is just my opinion,” said Hun Sen. “It will become a political matter in the long term. The children will say in the future that the US assisted them in completing university, while Hun Sen will be known as a man who doesn’t work.”

US Embassy spokesman Jay Raman yesterday denied that Michelle Obama had made any pledges regarding scholarships, stressing that the Let Girls Learn initiative was primarily focused on breaking down barriers to education by promoting awarewness of access inequalities.

Raman also stressed that “it’s not just about awareness, but also action, particularly through USAID programs that support girls’ education and at the community level through our Peace Corps volunteers and their local counterparts”.

Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association, reiterated the symbolic value of Obama’s visit, saying that Hun Sen’s comments would provide no positive results for Cambodia’s ailing education sector.

“I think Michelle Obama’s visit was of high value for Cambodia, and reminded the country to pay strong attention to education,” he said. “The comments made by Prime Minister Hun Sen will not benefit Cambodia, and he should have not used a mocking tone despite the fact the [program] will not provide [direct] access to university. He is the prime minister; he must take responsibility for education.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Prince Norodom Ranariddh passes away at 77

    Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the second son of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk and former First Prime Minister of Cambodia, has passed away in France at the age of 77. “Samdech Krom Preah Norodom Ranariddh has passed away this morning in France just after 9am Paris-time,”

  • Rise in planned flights lifts travel hopes

    Six airlines have applied to resume flights in December, while two others have put in for additional flights and routes, according to State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA) head Mao Havannall on November 29. These account for 43 new weekly domestic and international flights in December, up 16

  • General’s gun smuggling ring busted

    The Military Police sent six military officers to court on November 22 to face prosecution for possession of 105 illegal rifles and arms smuggling, while investigators say they are still hunting down additional accomplices. Sao Sokha, deputy commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and commander of

  • Cambodia, Thailand to discuss border reopening

    Cambodian authorities from provinces along the Cambodia-Thailand border will meet with Thai counterparts to discuss reopening border checkpoints to facilitate travel, transfer of products and cross-border trade between the two countries. Banteay Meanchey provincial deputy governor Ly Sary said on November 22 that the provincial administration

  • Hun Sen: Manet to be candidate for prime minister

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has reaffirmed that his oldest son Hun Manet will be his successor as Prime Minister if he is elected. Speaking during the inauguration of a new sewage treatment facility in Preah Sihanouk province on December 2, Hun Sen said Manet will be

  • More Cambodians studying in US

    The number of Cambodian students studying at US colleges and universities in 2020-21 increased by 14.3 per cent over the previous year despite the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a recent US government report. The 2021 Open Doors report on International Educational Exchange showed that 848 Cambodian students studied