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Two Chhouk Va High School Directors Suspended, Pending Investigation of Embezzlement Following Protests

Representatives of Phnom Penh Education Department hold a meeting with teachers to discuss a solution on June 7, 2024. (Supplied)
Representatives of Phnom Penh Education Department hold a meeting with teachers to discuss a solution on June 7, 2024. (Supplied)

The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS) and Phnom Penh Department of Education have formed a joint committee with three officers to investigate the allegations of misappropriation of funds and corruption involving the principal and deputy principal of Chea Sim Chhouk Va High School. The three appointees will also act as school representatives.

This follows a three-month protest by 67 teachers, who requested the MoEYS to expedite an investigation and replace the duo. The teachers boycotted three school shifts to carry out the protest using banners.

Teacher Chang Chan Huot at Chhouk Va high school said they boycotted teaching to pressure their superiors for a speedy intervention. However, their refusal to teach for three shifts saw the education department stepping in on June 7, following which the teachers agreed to return to normal routine.

“It is very difficult for us when the representatives of the education department come to resolve the issue but there is no solution which is acceptable. They only talk about regulation and don’t allow us to share our reason. All we want is for the directors to be removed,” Chan Hout said.

But, she believed that the department would take action and resolve the corruption problem in the education system quickly and transparently because if the director is  not changed, the school will not develop and there will be no unity. In the future, teachers might leave and students would move to another school. 

Chan Huot recalled that the school principal, Bun Mony, had previously told teachers to raise funds from parents and students as additional income for the school, but she did not agree with it.

“He [Bun Mony] said teachers should know how to do business and marketing to earn money for the school, but we do not subscribe to illegal activities like that,” Chan Hout said. “My view is that teachers are not fundraisers.”

She said if the problem is not properly solved, it could affect the ministry as well as set a bad example to other schools while adversely affecting children’s education.

“I want justice. If we see corruption and teach our children to do [the same], our society will not prosper. So, I request the ministry to speed up the procedure by removing the principal,” said Chan Hout.

No small matter

Another teacher, Soeng Sovann, 45, said after the teachers protested twice and did not teach the students for three shifts, the education department mediated with the teachers to continue teaching the students. 

So far, there has been only one committee member who has come to the school, and no official letter issued to suspend the principal or any decision whether the principal will be removed.

“In the next three months, they will discover the misconduct of the principal which is in line with our complaint,” Sovann said. “When the department meeting finds that Bun Mony’s management is not transparent, it will implement the procedure to deal with it according to the law,” Sovann said.

Teachers holds up a banner to protest against the school principal and his deputy over alleged misuse of funds, June 7, 2024. (Supplied)

Sovann does not view this issue as a small matter and insisted that the department solve the “irregularity” in a transparent manner. If the action taken is unacceptable by the teachers, they will continue to boycott. Students might also transfer to another school as many parents were dissatisfied with the directors’ leadership.

“[All I want] is the two directors’ removal because they have already found a lot of mistakes. If the department doesn’t take action, it means that the department has taken sides with those who are corrupt and we will boycott teaching,” said Sovann.

‘No evidence of corruption’

Hem Sinareth, director of the Phnom Penh Education Department, told CamboJA News that the ministry has issued a letter to the Phnom Penh Capital Hall to prepare a series of mechanisms. It is being resolved in accordance with the department’s procedures.  

The department has set up a three-member committee to monitor the school management with the board of directors’ decision-making roles and rights temporarily suspended. 

“I told the teachers to be open-minded and not go beyond what is forbidden to undermine the measures the committee is taking. So, when the committee is already formed and violations persist, teachers can protest again. No one can force them to express their rights,” said Sinareth, 

However, he was afraid that the teachers might have mixed up personal issues with the allegations against the school directors. He confirmed that evidence of corruption, as claimed by the teachers, was “not founded”. “It’s not corruption,” he said.

“The teachers accused the director of corruption, but we don’t see it like that,” said Sinareth. “For example, the school director spent money to do something, but there is no invoice and we also advised them,” he added.

He stressed that he adhered to the rules without taking sides but opined that the protest and banners to change the directors undermined the management system. “On the whole, we have asked the ministry and the Phnom Penh Capital Hall to take further action,” he said, adding that they have not reached the level of removing the principal yet.

‘We can’t make decisions’

Yer Leang, deputy director of Chouk Va high school, who has been accused with Bun Mony, denied the allegations, saying that they were not corrupt. He continued to work in the school like normal, he said.

But, when the joint committee came to investigate, he and other board directors would become members of the committee and have no right to decide on school matters.  

He declined to comment on the teachers’ allegations against him, noting that the relevant authorities are working on his case. 

“MoEYS and the education department had a meeting last week. They will arrange a joint committee to manage the school instead of us. Five people including me will become committee members only. We can’t make any decisions, we’ll be just members,” Leang said.

Pa Chanroeun, president of the Democratic Institute of Cambodia, told CamboJA News that corruption in the education sector, especially misappropriation of funds, should not happen. This is because public education institutions are a place to develop human resources, transparency and integrity in society.

He felt that the relevant ministries or departments should take strict action in accordance with the law and set up a committee to investigate the issue.

“The ministry should set up a joint committee to investigate and ensure justice, otherwise it will affect the ministry’s reputation,” said Chanroeun.

In February, MoEYS issued a statement that fundraising to support public school operations was strictly forbidden. According to the ministry, public schools received an average of 16 million riel annually for school operation, administration and teaching.