One-Year Anniversary of the First Cabinet Meeting

I am so glad today to be able to participate with all of you in this ceremony to present diplomas for graduates of the Chamroeun University of Polytechnics. Today, as everyone could recall, is the first anniversary of the first Cabinet meeting after the first parliamentary session on September 23 of 2013 under the presidency of HM the King. It also falls on the Phjum Ben day or the fifteenth day of the Buddhist ceremony. Our Phjum Ben day this year falls on 23 September 2014, when last year it was the day that HM the King summoned all 123 members of the National Assembly for its first meeting. Only 68 of them were present. On 24 September 2014, we started the process of establishing the Royal Government, which was yesterday. On the 25 September 2013, we held the first Cabinet meeting when we launched the Rectangular Strategy Phase III.

Just now we have taken a bit of time when a bodyguard came blocking me when I pay my respect to the Buddhist monk. I had to pull him aside. When you block me like that, it was easy if something were to happen. I bring this matter up so that the commanders of the bodyguard unit can talk about slightly figuring out method in providing protection. However, as I said, I am so happy today that it is the first anniversary of the first meeting of the (fifth legislative term of the National Assembly’s Royal Government) Cabinet. Everyone may have learnt already what have happened in this one-year period.

Quality Education

Just now Dr. Saom Somuni, rector of the Chamreoun University of Polytechnics (CUP), made a report on the progress made by CUP. I could recall that CUP was before a youth development organization with an abbreviation as KIDO of Chea Chamroeun. In gradual step, they have made it this far as a University responding to the need for development and demand of government officials for further education. I hope that thesis made in graduating from the CUP will be useful and with quality for researchers and person who write thesis itself. I would not forget to appeal to all tertiary education institutions – state and private – to improve quality of their education services.

Last week, HE Hang Chuon Naron, Minister of Education, Youth and Sports, met with association of private tertiary education foundations. We have to establish a standard where education provided by private and state tertiary institutions is comparatively similar. I urge you to work on this. I would like to take this opportune moment to express my sincere thank to leaders of the CUP and its professors, local and from afar, for sharing their knowledge to our students, especially those with PH D degrees. I would urge that each lecturer would coach only certain number of students. When they assist too many students, failing education is not because of the students but the teachers themselves.

I convey my sincere appreciation to efforts of the graduates, who include also Buddhist monk Nhem Sopheak from the pagoda of Kropeou Ha and Kloat Vandi, who, in addition to his engineer degree earned in the old day, wishes to further his degree. In fact, Kloat Vandi had been Secretary of State for many terms at the Ministry of Industry. For this term, because of his old age, he stopped. This has clarified that gaining knowledge should be an effort that would not last at any point. Study is a continuing process. He is an engineer left from the previous regime, before the war or Pol Pot’s regime, but he goes on with study.

I hope that we all see the importance of improving quality of education. We may have seen already what happened at the secondary school graduation exams. Those who studied well pass. Those who did not study have failed. From now on, we must uphold this development and spirit at all levels of education. What we have achieved is in fact the result of our deep reform effort. I would urge in this development that every University must see to its training, especially issues relating to thesis writing and defending. We must ensure a well-researched paper. We must not overlook this issue for cut and paste type of thesis.

Well Observed Phjum Ben Days, Four Factors

On behalf of the Royal Government, I would like to express my sincere appreciation for the authorities of all levels and the armed forces for providing security protection for our people in the celebration of the (alms offering to ancestors through Buddhist monks) Phjum Ben ceremony this year. We have seen that our people not only travel to pagodas but also to farer tourist destinations. I am glad to see that sub-national authorities have participated in the defence of security and social order. We had no interference from problem of political issues. Our people have travelled far and large though out the country.

Last Sunday I travelled to outside the capital. When I returned, it was reported that the National Road 5 was jammed. We then took the National Road 6. Yesterday, people also went out of the city. They came back in many cars to Phnom Penh. There are four factors why our people could travel from place to place. Firstly, would travelling as such have happened if it were not for peace? In the war period between 1970 and 1975, had our people in city or provincial town travelled anywhere, other than areas controlled by Lon Nol? As the war stopped, people can travel to former Khmer Rouge areas like Pailin, Samlot, Taken Koh Sla, etc. Peace is the main cause.

In the last one year, you can compare the Phjum Ben event last year and this year. It was not perfect but the country does not fall into chaos. While we are celebrating Phjum Ben here, the US-led alliance forces launched air strikes on ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The two situations are starkly different. With peace, our people travel without fear anywhere they wish to.

Secondly, better infrastructure that the Royal Government forcefully invested over a decade. It serves as link between people so that they could go visit their native places. In the recent past, especially areas along the river where there are many streams, even if one had car, one could not have made it to their homes. Infrastructures placed by the efforts of the Royal Government allow our people to travel to remote provinces of Preah Vihear, Ratanakiri, Mondulkiri, Stoeung Treng and Kratie, etc. Before long, we will connect the provinces of Stoeung Treng and Preah Vihear together by the National Road 9, one of the latest in our history. We have the National Road 8, another new National Road too. We allowed people to use the bridge to cross the Mekong River at Stoeng Treng to Preah Vihear at the festive time as well.

Thirdly, people have the means to transport. Those without own transport means are travelling by public transport means. I have not had the statistics on traffic accidents during the Phjum Ben day holiday yet. Thanks to increasing number of transport means, in general, people had been able to travel to their villages to celebrate the traditional Buddhist ceremony and to be together with families.

Fourthly, people have certain level of income that allow them to gas their means of transport or pay for their trips. Though the income has not been as high as we want it to be, but it is on the growing territory. Take for instance basic salary for workers has increased from 82 USD to 100 USD a month. Negotiation is underway for further increase next year. Thanks to all four factors, people have been able to travel far and wide. I am sure at this very hour they are on their ways back to Phnom Penh.

Seven Institutions Failed to Make Early Payday

I thank the Ministry of Economy and Finance for making effort to allow early payday even before the celebration of the Phjum Ben day. Seven institutions have failed to make their staff payments before the Phjum Ben day – 1) Planning, 2) Rural Development, 3) Women’s Affairs, 4) Public Works and Transports, 5) the Court of Appeal, 6) National Auditing Committee and 7) Anti-Corruption Unit. I would urge Ministers to make sure next year to make their staff payday at this important Buddhist event early. I would make it public without letting you know in advance. I would hold you responsible. I also did not tell the Ministry of Economy and Finance to enforce early payday. However, I am doing the monitoring.

The teachers’ salary for September is to increase. According to the report by Ministry of Economy and Finance, as well as that I received from HE Hang Chuon Naron, Minister of Education, Youth and Sports, we still have some more to do. We can proceed with new salary only for teachers of primary level education from 480,000 Riel to 550,000 Riel in September. Because some have had to hand in needed information, their new salary may enforce in October. However, we will make sure of their recall.

Priority for Teachers and Medical Staff

As of this point, the Ministry of Health has finished with its payroll and I will probably sign it either later today or tomorrow. Our priority will rest in teachers and medical staff. Of the 180,000 government employees, 130,000 of them or 70% are teachers and medical staff. We have 110,000 teachers and 19,623 medical staff, whose new salary will go into force in October. These employees earn the least pay at 440,000 Riel. They will get 550,000 Riel per month.

Those 426 staff working in office, let me clarify, for a basic salary of 424,000 Riel will receive 505,000 Riels per month from October through to December. In the first three months of 2015, only a minor increase will there be as it will be the integration of payroll. Their salary will be 507,800 Riel. Starting from April 2015, their salary will reach 552,800 Riel. As far as 1,957 primary level midwives are concerned, their basic salary of 440,000 Riel will reach 550,000 Riel in October and for the first three months of 2015, their salary will reach 566,720 Riel. Starting from April, the salary will reach 646,720 Riel per month. I am talking about those who receive the lowest pay here.

A Precise Salary System Starts January 2015

I have sought understanding from those who have high salary already that they will not get any increase or very slight one if they do. As for other staff, I would urge them not to get jealous with those in the service of education and health. As of January 2015, a precise salary system will commence in which salary of all government officials will adjust into positive territory, with a higher index for those in the service of education and health. There will be increase in the last four months of 2014 for education and three months for health workers, with more increase in early part of 2015.

We are determined to do all this with our careful observation of our income and expense. I am talking about current income and expense. It means that we have surplus of our cash for salary. Being Prime Minister or Minister of Economy and Finance, the most difficult thing is to have no cash in the treasury. Sometimes, they have order to cash out but there was no money to do so. We do not resort to printing any more money. I hope the seven institutions work fast to get their staff payments. I received information from the military and police that they have cashed in their salary. Numerous ministries also were on the same track. I stayed quiet.

Well in general, not many staff that missed their payday before Phjum Ben. They may miss the pay for Phjum Ben but they will not miss their pay at end of the month. We must make more effort on this. Making promises is easy because one would not have exhausted their batteries for doing so but working to make it real is a hard one. If we were to have money, we certainly do not have to increase our staff salary in stages as I presented earlier. In response to my appeal for teachers and medical staff to work in rural and remote areas, we have worked to increase what we call regional supplement payment and we were able to go only from 60,000 to 80,000 Riel. We know that this sort of allowance should be reasonably rational to their needs to hire lodging, for example.

No More Cigarettes

Over the past one year, I have struggled hard not with nature but with myself. I can declare today that, finally, I no longer smoke. It has taken me 14 years to fulfil the promise I made a promise in my daughter’s wedding that I will stop smoking. My grandchild is now 14 years old. HE Pol Saroeun also tries to quit smoking. Pa So Cheatvong does not succeed in quitting too. Now that I quit it, when I get back home, I could not stand the smell of the cigarette. This has brought me to an understanding how hard it was for my wife to stand a husband’s smoking habit. I have stayed away for eight months now from cigarette. I am counting it as one of my successes for the first anniversary of the fifth legislative term Royal Government too.

Weather Forecast

Let me say a small thing here. This morning HE Lim Kean Hor SMS me about change of weather forecast. In Cambodia, we have two ways of counting days and months in our lunar calendar. We used to say the Chinese furthers months and the Khmer furthers days later. In general, the lunar calendar would have our Phjum Ben in October and after Phjum Ben, the seasonal flood of the Mekong would recede. Now that the 17th tropical storm Kammuri is turning its way back to the ocean from firstly predicting to head on to the Mekong basin, we still predict that there would be some rain. This has changed our flood prediction at the Chadomuk River front at 10.50 meters to only 9.5 meters. This means that water in three other flood-monitoring stations of Stoeng Treng, Kratie and Kompong Cham, would not surge as high as the previous level.

In fact, our prediction with help from the radar station and technological availability in the whole world does not seem to be precise any more. The year of dragon that there had always been high, had recorded the lowest level ever. Whatever prediction it is, we have caught water in our reservoirs already. Please retain them for cultivation along the river area. Our people may ask if they should start transplanting now or wait. It is kind of hard to tell them what should be the course of action. According to our tradition, after Phjum Ben, we started transplanting rice according to the pace of flood recession. What can we say when flood level in Stoeng Treng goes up today and goes down the next. I think it requires closely monitoring.

Ensure Safety of the Second Bridge at Jroy Jangvar

I would take this opportune moment to bring this issue to the Municipality of Phnom Penh. Yesterday I crossed the second bridge at Jroy Jangvar – the Sino-Cambodian Friendship Bridge. Our water festival will be for three days on 5, 6 and 7 November. We had allowed people to cross the bridge for a few days during the Phjum Ben days. I think the Municipality of Phnom Penh and the Ministry of Public Works and Transports must work with the Chinese construction company to make sure that the bridge will be able to take it up to the task for people to cross to and from during the water festival event. This year’s water level is not that high. In 2013, the flood was high. In 2011, we had a serious flooding and in 2012 we could not celebrate the festivity for we had our mourning over the loss (of Samdech Preah Norodom Sihanouk) in the Royal Palace.

This year we are determined to holding the water festival. I urge the Municipality of Phnom Penh and the Ministry of Transports and Public Works to work closely with the Chinese construction company to ensure the flow traffic across the river. We have two bridges already at Tonle Bassac. We anticipate the new bridge ready too across the Tonle Sap. I crossed the new bridge yesterday but I do not feel safe. I urge a thorough check on the bridge and make sure it is up to the task. Let us not worry about the inauguration but about how our people pass it during the coming event./.