I am grateful that the Director of the School has displayed pictures of how the school has been developed since 1960s and later on at one point it has been transformed into a warehouse for UNICEF and finally back into a school. When HE Chhea Thang was Minister and HE Dinarong Rith was the Secretary of State for Health, in 1996 I came here to preside over the graduation ceremony. It was at that time that we had a discussion on how to go about mending the buildings’ leakages from rain. It is good to have said here that personal health, family health, community health are national wealth. Indeed all of you who have been trained in various specialties never have thought of a person of what they may be, what complexion they may have, what rank or wealth they may have to provide treatment.
It is no different from me. I have built schools, hospitals and made canals in the aim that everything I did is for the people of Cambodia irrespective of wealth and political affiliation. People’s wellbeing is indeed the country’s invaluable wealth and it is also my happiness. With regards to some of the recommendations I have listed out, I wish to elaborate a little further on the point of students’ enrolment. I wish that priority is given to those from rural areas so that there is a confirmation that once they finished their studies they will return to their native places. In this regard I wish to recall the State of Cambodia’s experience in recruiting students: all students enrolled must sign a contract with the State that once graduated would be serving in the State’s health sector. Such a contract student had come to an end in 1997.
We had in those days provided a priority to students from remote provinces – such as Ratanakiri, Mundulkiri, Stoeungtreng, Preah Vihear or Kohkong. What had been the most stressing experience was that the students from Ratanakiri for instance never had a chance to come study but their names had been replaced by those in Phnom Penh. Some students came from powerful cirdle in Phnom Penh had taken their places. The fact is that once they finished their studies, they found ways to stay in Phnom Penh. I mentioned here to draw their attentions otherwise everyone would say they come from rural areas, and they might benefit from the favor system.
Every time there has been a health conference about number of doctors in relation to people density – take for instance we have about 70% of our physicians who attend to about between 20% and 30% of the population and on the contrary about 70% of the population is being attended by only about 30% of the health staff. This is indeed unequal distribution of the country’s wealth. We have applied a policy of incentive for those who would choose to work in the specialized area of combating tuberculosis and of being midwives. I am sure that this is a concern of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs also. Therefore I encourage HE Minister for Women’s Affairs to also engage in this matter. When we talk about reducing the rate of mortality for children, we have to start here with midwives.
I would take this forum to seek understanding from 56 students who have filed a complaint to me to intervene on their behalf for their enrollments. I cannot make a decision on this matter. I have to respect the decision of the school’s management, also the respect for our donor included. Intervention is for seeking justice – take for instance the confiscation of land, etc. I would then accept to intervene but to intervene in the School’s affairs for enrolling a number of students exceeding their capacity would not be appropriate. I therefore apologize that I could not take your request. Why the Prime Minister could not intervene on this small matter? I would respond that I have to respect the School Governing Council’s decision as it has a direct repercussion on the School’s quality of education.
If we were to intervene here and there, how could we go about implementing the policy of decentralization? I have used the term “profound reform or absolute reform” i.e. I would not let anyone intervene inappropriately. Take for instance physicians who have been assigned to work in rural areas have to respect their duties.
Another matter of concern that is drawing our attention recently is bird flu outbreak. I wish to place an appeal to all related institutions – the Ministries of Health, Agriculture and Information, to move fast in their campaign against the possible outbreak of bird flu, which has become a prime concern in the world. There was an outbreak of this disease in a place in Cambodia and we have to strive for an immediate mechanism to combat the case. We have done it with SARS and now we are doing it with bird flu. The media – radio, TV and newspapers – have to pay attention in launching spots on this disease matter.
I have one more thing to say about removing defamation lawsuit from criminal law. I have discussed this issue with HE Minister for Justice on the fact that the Article 63 of the UNTAC (United Nations Transitional Authority for Cambodia) law must be amended first so that the Ministry of Justice could proceed to remove the defamation suit from criminal law. We have to proceed as fast as we can. We have the commune election coming soon and the exchange of words would turn into clashes. So we have to call for an amendment of the article by the Cabinet before sending for approval by the National Assembly. The press would also be freer to write whatever they know./.