With Peace We Make Education

I am so happy to return for the graduation ceremony for 2,501 students of the Norton University. The University’s rector Chan Sokheang has made a report already relating to the progress made by the University. All I could recall is that the University was the one that actively takes part in the implementation of the Royal Government’s policy on issue of private investment in the field of education. I remember that in 1997, I came for the inauguration of the university itself. I am quite encouraged by the fact that in time that the country was still in war, the rector, who was then a single man, dared to invest in establishing this university.

It is not a simple matter. As we are at this point of time, looking back, we see the difference between the size of investment then and now. We have no intention to disvalue those who follow later but it is worth remembering that anything we achieved in a difficult situation has a high value to cherish. No less, peace that we have obtained with numerous difficulties leads us to recognizing its value. It is not simple that we sought for peace for a country divided and ravaged by genocide and tragedy of internal war. We have brought this country along away from being the one with many factions and areas under different control to one with no more war but lasting peace and unified territory. We made it happen. We must protect it.

Win-win policy has continued to bring people numerous chances. If we were to be in the state of war and division, it would not be possible to expand our efforts in education as we have been doing so far. At the time of the establishment of the Norton University in the 1990s, we were in the process of integrating into the fold of the nation areas like Pailin, Samlot, Malai, Phnom Proek. We did then for Oaral and Taken Koh Sla. Unfortunately, before the inauguration of the University, there was a military clash in Phnom Penh. However, the rector was not scared away. He invited me to preside over the inauguration ceremony in 1997. Now the university moves from the area of Old market in Phnom Penh downtown to across the bridge of Jroy Jangva. We will have one more bridge in place that our students can go to and from easily.

No Discrimination between State and Private University

As is known to everyone, I have no discrimination in my policy. I would let the state enterprises fall but not the private sector. If I were to have time, I could have written it. Take for instance, it took me lots of time and in various places to finish a book titles “Cambodia’s Ten Years March.” There is a point in it that I mentioned about a fact that happened in the industrial sector then. In one of our factories run by the state at Takhmao, Kandal province, they produce the outer cover for bicycle. They could not sell it. In one of the Cabinet’s meeting, Minister of Industry Ho Noun, proposed to me, I think HE Chhay Than, Minister of Planning could have remembered that, to close down private shops that produced the outer covers.

What an awkward proposal. They based their argument on the fact that in order to keep the factory alive, as their outer covers could not sell in competition with those available at the private shops, the Ministry of Industry proposes to close down those private workshops. I responded, no, I would allow the state factory to die but I would not do a thing to cause disruption to the private workshops. It is a true story that happened in the government in that stage of our history. You can find it in my book.

Once again, in relation to education, there has never been any discrimination as to state or private schools or universities. In fact, as you may have noticed, I came to events of private education institutions more than I did to the state ones. There is one field though that we cannot allow private sector to take over. That is the national defense issue. No private institution can do that. We have state-run national defense university. We also need to have ones for the national police. We also need to strengthen education in area of medicine as it is important to national security and human life.

However, in general, there is no discrimination between learning in state or private education institutions. We also provide fee-paying chances for students who fail to get scholarships. We provide equal chance and students will pay similar amount for their studies. I would like to take this opportune moment to thank the University for providing me so far some 350 scholarships, 50 of whom are here to be presented with diplomas, which I gave to those who could not make it financially to continue their studies.

Quantity Vs Quality, Retest for Grade-Twelve Students

The rector of Norton University raised this issue of measuring a balance between quantity and quality. I agree. Without achieving a sum of quantity, one would not stand a chance to screen for quality. It is also true that with quantity achieved, if no efforts are made to achieve quality, it is also to guarantee a breakthrough. Take for instance in the grade-twelve exam this year, the Ministry of Education introduces various reforms aimed at making our students to work hard with their studies. As we are in the process of correcting papers, primary estimates from HE Hang Chuon Naron, Minister of Education, Youth and Sports, the rate of passing exam will not be as high as in every other year at 80%. We will not let failed students lose their chances.

According to the preparation made by the Ministry, we will run a retest for failed students in a period between one and a half or two months. He proposes the methodology to me and I have supported it. Those who failed in the first exam will stand to take a retest or second exam allowed by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports. We are satisfied to spend a bit more money so that our students will work harder to get their true grade. There have been question that if they fail the second chance exam, what is going to happen?

There will be two options. Firstly, s/he can study in the same grade for another year and take the exam the year after. We allow them to go on with their study. What happens if s/he fails the exam after repeating his grade? The Ministry of Education will have to think about allowing them to continue their studies to specialized skill training institutions. I think we will need to discuss further and the Ministry of Education will have to come up with something.

Opting for lowering grade admitted to pass is concerned, we should not neglect the fact that we need to guarantee real quality in addition to concern that some may fail still to pass. We used to have this practice of lowering grade for students’ performance in exam. However, I do not feel it is the right thing to do. I have discovered that the practice would neglect guaranteeing quality. Let me recall a case at the US Military Academy at West Point. I visited my son there. Out of our discussion, they let me know that they only take ten foreign students per program. If anyone applicant fails to fulfill the requirement, they would rather leave the place vacant. It is a university with strict policy.

Climate Change, Second Surge of Flood Warning

After people finish their feast for the flood spirit, the flood would recede. However, we are anticipating the second surge of flood sometime at the time we organize our traditional alms offering ceremony Prochum Ben. That is our mark. In 2012, the year of dragon, we predicted the flood to be a large one. It turned out to be small. In 2013, when normally the year of snake the flood is small, we had a big one. In 2014, the year of horse, according to our weather forecast ability, the flood is going to be big. For Phnom Penh, the second surge would reach between 10.2 and 10.3 meters, while the emergency level in Phnom Penh is 10.5 meters.

In this respect, I am calling on our authorities concerned to continue to pay attention on this matter. The flood has receded in upper provinces of Stoeng Treng and Kratie now. Nevertheless, traditionally it will surge again. In that case, there will be a need for us to keep watching and get ready to evacuate people and their animals to safety areas or higher ground. As in many provinces of the country are affected by flood, some have experienced drought – Kompong Speu, Takeo, etc. This is a similar pattern of flooding and drought in 2001 and 2002, when water in the river surged high but there were no rain in many areas, where pumping was necessary. More efforts needed to prevent death from flood related incidents.

Regular Socio-Economic Life Strengthened

At the end of July and starting this August, regularization of the state institution and regular socio-economic life of the people have strengthened thank to the reconciliation between parties with seats in the National Assembly. I have made it clear in our strategy to guarantee regular state of being of legislative, executive and court. It has gone through smoothly. We attend the ASEAN meeting. We are presenting students with their diplomas. Even if there were no meeting at the National Assembly last week, I would still come here as scheduled to preside over the ceremony. National construction, security and social order maintaining is a normal working process but we can do them better with political settlement.

I spoke in the National Assembly after the note by HE Sam Rainsy that if this spirit came one year ago, there would have been nothing like what had happened. That has clarified that everything we did were correct. HM the King presided over the first opening meeting of the newly elected National Assembly. It was correct. We then created the Royal Government. That were correct. It has made things better with presence of other elected members of the National Assembly. No matter what, being late is better than never. As things go the right way, regularity of state institutions – legislative and executive, and that of the court, will continue to work harder to resolve and improve people’s socio-economic living conditions, while promoting deeper reforms in all fields.

In Cambodia, there are times when we have got to be patient. Going through our history, one would note that between the elections in 1998 to 2003, there had always been a mess to take care of. It was even harder than this one in 2013. That is why we need to exercise reform so that the younger generation would have a reconciling period among Khmer and need no foreign intervention in our affairs. I would not approve that. I would go for talk between Khmer and Khmer. We need HM the King’s approval and he is the number one person in Cambodia, not the Secretary General of the United Nations or President of so and so. That is my resolute position.

Take for instance, the country nearby made a power transfer through the military coup. However, in the end, to legitimize their being, they needed approval of HM the King. That is how things go. No one has the power to convene the first opening meeting of the National Assembly or to issue a Royal decree to assign Prime Minister, who then has to form the cabinet. HM the King has the sole authority to sign the Royal decree. It is in this understanding that I deem it useless to seek foreign intervention to resolve internal affairs.

Consequences of Foreign Interventions

Take the case of Middle East, for example. What happens now to Libya? Iraq? Many countries are congratulating President Barack Obama for approving air strikes in Iraq. I do not wish to pick on Mr. President but it has clearly shown in the Indochina war in which no matter how strong support the airstrikes were, the Lon Nol regime fell. The US had to leave Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. Militarily, whoever has the advantage of infantry they have the chance of getting the upper hand.

In a dinner with the US President HE Barack Obama, I asked about the situation in Syria. The US seemed to have known fully well that there are various resistant forces in Syria. Among them, there consists those terrorist force or extremist groups. It was no different to the time of Mujahideen, led by Osama Bin Laden, fighting against the former Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The one whom the US helps becomes the one that fights the US. This has become a concern for many western nations in providing assistance to the resistant forces against the government of President Assad in Damascus. Now the force has grown in size and annexed a part of Syria. I am worried Libya would be similar.

Let Our Nation Stand

I have said it even before the elections (2013) that we should not let our race for the elections lead to division of our nation. I repeated it after we finished the elections. Now the time has clearly shown that politicians always have their twists and turns. Politicians are who they are. That is why I always remind everyone not to be someone more than that person is himself. Finally, they all sit in the National Assembly. Politicians can be compared as short canoes/boats. Take for instance it was the people’s decision not to join the National Assembly. As the situation turned, they all said now it is the people’s will for them to join the National Assembly to wage battle in there.

People should be happy, no matter for what party they gave their votes that we have come to this time. I am sure not all of you here voted for the Cambodian People’s Party. However, you should have the feeling that this person in front of you is the Prime Minister of the country. No one has the love of everyone. Not even God Buddha or Christ. If everyone loves God Buddha, there would not be Christ or Allah. That is democracy and pluralism. We had to go through insulting words like unilateral or half-full National Assembly, etc. It is now a full one. We know it is just coming late. This is a true story and it should not be suffering for anyone but a victory for our people in the whole country. Let our people rejoice as final winners.

As political confrontation dies down, I proposed to HE Sam Rainsy as well as our people to take note of the good words he mentioned. Let us wait and see if anyone calls me the Yuon (Vietnamese) puppet. I think they should stop. It is not acceptable. Otherwise, they would work with the Vietnamese puppet in the National Assembly. Let us stop the culture of coloring one another. The policy of fish eating ants when flood surges and ants eating fish when flood recedes should stop. In 1970s, when there was a coup against Samdech Preah Norodom Sihanouk and when the Khmer Rouge took power, they executed those who were close to Sangkumreastrniyum or popular socialist society of Samdech Sihanouk and close to Lon Nol regime. In some countries, as we can see, there has no end yet.

Especially racism and religious conflict have become an issue. We have seen conflict between Buddhism and Buddhist followers with Muslim. We also see that a de facto Islamic State exists between Syria and Iraq. They have been telling the Christians to leave or they will kill them. That is how far they could get.  Hope when people see their political leaders reconcile they also do at their levels. I do not wish to see division between those at one end of the village in conflict with those in the central part or the other end of the village. We all cultivate rice. They all need irrigation, market, bridges, schools and hospitals.

Salary Recall Rests on the Constitutional Council

Well, finally we are a bit happy. That we have a bit more money, it is not real. We have to try working for it. People must not think now that everyone goes to the National Assembly there is no need for everyone to stop working. However, I wish to raise one issue here today that is concerning not to political party or its members but to national budget and people. There have been question by two political parties with seats in the National Assembly, and by people in general, about salary recall for members of the National Assembly who did not join the sessions before. I must make it clear here that I do not have the rights to decide on this matter. I would refer this matter to the Constitutional Council.

If ever they propose the matter, please refer it to the Constitutional Council. I will respect the decision of the Constitutional Council. I just prepare myself for something I do not have right to do. I cannot say yes or no on this issue. If they do not propose it, that will be even better. In 2003, I made a mistake once. I decided to issue salary recall for members of the National Assembly from all parties – CPP, FUNCINPEC and Sam Rainsy Party. Now that is about all we have for today. I just want to remind everyone that we all are happy and our nation has won. Differences in the past have ended since last Friday. We open a new page in our history and therefore make efforts to further progress within the strategic framework of the Royal Government./.