Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday announced plans to form a second foundation to raise funds to keep the Kantha Bopha children’s hospitals afloat, though with the government poised to take over management of the hospitals, one observer questioned why it wasn’t providing a sustainable source of funding from the state coffers.

Dr Beat Richner, the prominent Swiss-born doctor who rebuilt the hospitals, was forced to step down from his more than two-decade role of managing the hospitals last March due to a brain disease, which causes memory loss. The majority of the funding to run the hospitals in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap currently comes from donations to the Kantha Bopha Foundation in Zurich, Switzerland. It costs $42 million annually to run the hospitals, which treat children free of charge.

In a speech to a group of cyclo drivers yesterday, Hun Sen praised his government’s increased support for the hospitals, though even after a $4 million dollar increase to its funding this year, the state still pays for less than a quarter of the hospitals’ operating costs. In addition, $2 from every ticket sale at the Angkor Wat Archaeological Park are earmarked for the hospital, and the Cambodian Red Cross – run by Hun Sen’s wife, Bun Rany – has pledged to make a $1 million yearly contribution.

“There is a Kantha Bopha foundation in Switzerland already, but we will establish another Kantha Bopha foundation, and I will be the honorary head in order to collect more resources for the Kantha Bopha hospitals, which have treated a lot of children,” Hun Sen said yesterday.

“We cannot say we lost Mr Beat Richner, [so] the hospitals [went] bankrupt.”

Dr Denis Laurent, Kantha Bopha’s deputy director, said the hospitals were aware of the announcement as an inter-ministerial committee from the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Economy and Finance has been working to find funding solutions for the hospitals.

“It’s very good,” he said. “Now this new foundation is going to try to find more and more funds.”

But Laurent added that more should be done, though donations from Switzerland have not yet begun to decrease.

Chum Sopha, executive director of the NGO Health and Development Alliance, said the creation of the foundation was a good idea, but he believed the hospitals should instead be funded by the Ministry of Health or the government should at least bear a higher percentage of the overall costs.

“If the ministry funded 70 to 80 percent, it would be good,” he said. “It’s more sustainable if the government contributed through tax money. People pay for the people.”

Several members of the inter-ministerial committee couldn’t be reached for comment.