Prime Minister Hun Sen today announced plans to offer free health care to cyclo drivers and to form a foundation to help preserve them as a tourist attraction, despite cyclo drivers already receiving free medical services – an initiative coordinated by the association that already promotes their conservation.

Hun Sen’s comments came during a speech before some 13,000 factory workers in Russey Keo district. Cyclo drivers are the latest group the premier is trying to woo with free medical care ahead of the national election in July, having promised the same services to thousands of garment workers and all employees, including foreigners.

“We [will] start to form the foundation to support them as a tourist attraction . . . and help the cyclo workers,” he said, adding he would assign Phnom Penh Municipal Governor Khoung Sreng to create the foundation’s bylaws.

Hun Sen pledged to personally contribute 100 million riel, or about $25,000, for the establishment of the foundation, and an additional 10 million riel, or about $2,500, every month. In 2011, the premier claimed his $13,800 annual salary was his sole source of income.

Like other informal workers, cyclo drivers will be required to have a proper card in order to obtain the services at any public hospital.

Cyclo Conservation and Career Association Executive Director Im Sambath said cyclo workers already receive free health care for serious conditions following a 2011 agreement with Samdech Ov Hospital in Phnom Penh.

But, he said, Hun Sen’s promise will make accessing care for less serious conditions more “open” for all cyclo drivers.

“We need to help the cyclo drivers’ welfare,” he said, adding they were among the poorest of the poor.

There are 200 cyclo drivers in Phnom Penh and a total of 400 cyclos, Sambath said, adding the association already works to preserve the trade as a tourism draw.

Sambath will meet with Sreng today to further discuss the new benefits, and the association will also seek pensions and land to store the cyclos.

Chum Sopha, executive director of the NGO Health and Development Alliance, said the health benefits should have been offered years ago.

“I think this is a political campaign,” he said. “It’s not really a service relief for the poor.”

Updated: Thursday 4 January 2017, 8:34am