Editor's note: For the updated print version of this article, please click here.
Prime Minister Hun Sen took aim at Michelle Obama on Wednesday, accusing the United States first lady of making false promises while suggesting her visit last weekend was more about hopeful rhetoric rather than concrete implementations of 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 their 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 chooses 300 students? It would be death. I don't have that money to give."
Hun Sen added that he was under the impression the US was going to foot the bill for these girls’ education, but 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.”
US Embassy spokesman Jay Raman denied on Wednesday that the 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 awareness 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.”