A prominent member of the Supreme Consultation Forum is set to submit a request to Prime Minister Hun Sen calling for an investigation into a land dispute between a charitable school and the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation in Preah Sihanouk province.
Sok Sovann Vathana Sabung, who is also the president of the Khmer Rise Party (KRP), said the dispute centred around a 1ha plot on which the School of Hope is located.
The school, he said, had now been given three months to vacate the land despite having been in operation there for over 20 years.
His request came in response to the school management’s plea when it publicised the ministry’s order requiring its entire staff to relocate through its website earlier this month.
According to the website, the school had so far trained some 70,000 poor students and raised many orphans. For the new academic year, the School of Hope, which employs nearly 50 teachers, has enrolled 350 students from pre-school to grade 12 level.
The school management said the ministry had also recently ordered another school under its umbrella in Phnom Penh – Rabbit School, which teaches autistic children – to relocate.
After a field visit, Vathana Sabung said he suspected corruption and would investigate to determine if the ministry had deliberately claimed the land to sell it to a private company.
He claimed there were irregularities with the ministry’s order as the school was a non-profit and had contributed significantly to human resources and social development in the Kingdom.
“If [the ministry claims the land] for development purposes, just upgrade it to international standards. As far as I know, the school’s land title is already in the hands of a private company.
“And when the school filed a complaint to me, people were attempting to pay a bribe. So it goes to show there are irregularities in this case,” he said.
Vathana Sabung said he would forward the complaint along with evidence of irregularities to Hun Sen on Monday.
“I will do my best to find out the truth, even if the case involves high-ranking officials. Anyone involved in the case won’t be able to get away with it,” he said.
School of Hope principal Phum Narith told The Post on Wednesday that the ministry had deceived the director of the school’s parent organisation into signing an agreement granting the land to the ministry.
He said the school had legally bought the 1ha land from villagers and rightfully occupied it since 2002.
“I don’t know which company the land has been sold to. But I’ve learnt that it was sold after land prices in the area increased.
“Everyone was shocked upon hearing the news. The paperwork was secretly processed, a new land title was issued behind closed doors, and all the teachers who have been living on the land for nearly 20 years have been told to leave,” he said.
Narith stressed that after he filed a complaint to the KRP president, he was approached by an unidentified deputy director of the Department of Social Affairs who persuaded him to drop the case with a promise of $40,000.
“On August 11, he [the deputy director] met me on appointment and told me the company in question offered to give me an incentive of $40,000. But I rejected the offer because I could not accept the money to cover up information,” he said.
Ministry spokesperson Toch Channy on Wednesday dismissed Vathana Sabung’s claims, saying the ministry had valid documentation to prove its rightful ownership of the land. He said the ministry needed the land for development, though he declined to elaborate.
Pressed for further details, he said the land had been granted to a private company as part of the government’s development project.
“If the [KRP] president wants to investigate, it’s up to him. But the ministry has enough documentation to substantiate its claims. We can confront each other with the paperwork. If the land was bought from residents as claimed, please prove it with valid documentation.
“And if [Vathana Sabung] files a proposal to the prime minister, we are good and ready to clarify the matter when summoned [by Hun Sen],” he said.