Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday announced the creation of a foundation to raise money to support the country’s five Kantha Bopha children’s hospitals in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
Hun Sen also said tycoon Kith Meng had donated property valued at $8 million that a Kantha Bopha official said the hospital group previously rented for an administrative office.
The Kantha Bopha Foundation in Cambodia was created amid concerns that donations from Switzerland, which has supported the hospitals, could dwindle with the absence of the hospitals’ founder, Dr Beat Richner, a 73-year-old Swiss-born pediatrician who stepped down in 2017 due to a serious medical condition that caused memory loss. At the time he announced his plans, the premier was criticised for not contributing a sustainable source of funding from the state coffers to the hospitals.
Hun Sen said he will personally contribute $50,000 to the foundation each year for the next five years. Additionally, he said, the government will contribute $10 million annually for the operation of the hospitals and $5 million to the foundation.
Those who contribute up to $20,000 to the new foundation in Cambodia will become founding members, while those who contribute $5,000 will become honorary members, he said. Additionally, those who contribute 5,000 riel, or about $1.25, per month, or 60,000 riel per year, will become supporting members.
Dr Denis Laurent, Kantha Bopha’s deputy director, said the foundation’s creation was a welcome move. The hospitals provide free treatment to some of the most severely ill youngsters in Cambodia, and since 1992 have served nearly 18 million children.
“It was a dream and a vision of Dr Beat Richner to have more support from the Cambodian government,” he said.
Hun Sen also announced that Kith Meng, chairman of the Royal Group, on Tuesday offered to give the land to the foundation. “We accepted this and gave the land to the foundation and the foundation will hand this land to the hospitals with the title,” he said.
“Mr Beat Richner had the intention to buy the land from Oknha Kith Meng,” he said. “But they could not buy it and the matter was raised to me. The government had thought about buying the land for the hospital, but at that time, it was a bit difficult.”
He said the rent was just $1 per square metre, but didn’t specify how often the rent was due. However, Laurent said no rent on the office building had been charged for the past 11 years.
There is already a Kantha Bopha Foundation in Zurich, Switzerland, which has raised money for years to cover the $42 million in annual costs to operate the hospitals.
“For the next mandate, if I am still the prime minister of Cambodia, I will continue leading the contributions uninterruptedly to the Kantha Bopha hospitals in order to ensure sustainability,” Hun Sen said.
San Chey, executive director of the Affiliated Network of Social Accountability, said there are concerns in the long term for the management of the foundation.
To attract donations, the foundation needs to reach out to all stakeholders, such as members of other political parties, civil society organisations, development partners and other leaders, whose involvement is needed for “charity purposes and not for political gain”, Chey said.
“We want the foundation to be more neutral.”