The donation of two ambulances and a van by Prime Minister Hun Sen to a popular radio station has raised concerns among observers that the vehicles will be used for illegal activities.
The vehicles were given to the popular ABC Radio station by Hun Sen after one of ABC’s unregistered ambulances was impounded by the Phnom Penh health department on Thursday.
Hun Sen ordered the removal of the department’s director, Sok Sokun, from his post on Saturday – seemingly for enforcing a standing ministry directive – but he was on Monday given a new position as deputy secretary-general for technical affairs at the Health Ministry.
The impounded ambulance was found to be carrying ABC-branded fruit juice for distribution to customers, while the station argued it did not need a license because the vehicle was only used to transport corpses for poor families.
As ABC staff and callers to the airwaves to decry the action by the health department, Hun Sen personally called in, assuring listeners that the matter would be resolved. Three new vehicles were delivered to the station on Tuesday morning, carrying the label “Samdech Techo Hun Sen, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia.”
Political observers afterwards expressed concerns that the labeling of the vehicles would make it easy for ABC to use them for illegal activities.
Yong Kim Eng, president of the People’s Center for Development and Peace, said putting the names of high-ranking government officials on the cars can scare the general public and others, even police, will not dare to stop them.”
“Drivers in the street are also scared when they see cars with a sign saying this was donated from this or that person, who is a high-ranking government official. So I’m afraid that if the cars are used to commit other mistakes in the future, the police will not dare touch them.”
San Chey, executive director of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, said Hun Sen should make it clear to ABC that the vehicles should not be used for illegal activity.
“If there are any problems or suspicions, the police should take action against those people, because we have seen similar cases; for example, some vehicles carry armed forces plates, national police ones, and even some ambulances have been caught carrying [protected] rosewood,” he said.
Seng Bunveng, the media mogul who owns ABC Radio, as well as ABC’s director, Ly Sovann, could not be reached to respond to the concerns.
However, at the handover ceremony, Bunveng said his ambulances were necessary to fill a gap in services left by the government.