Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen’s use of a privately chartered jet to fly himself and an entourage of 40 to a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly in September has sparked outrage on Cambodian social media, with many in the still-developing Southeast Asian country angrily questioning how the money was spent.
Comments posted recently on Facebook called the expenditure extravagant and unnecessary, with one Facebook user calling the hiring of the plane a “waste of the national budget.”
“This is a sign that Hun Sen and his people are very corrupt and steal from the nation,” another user wrote, adding, “When will these people be held accountable for their crimes?”
“And that amount was just for hiring the plane,” another Facebook user wrote, pointing to an estimated cost of around $700,000 an hour for the charter. “What about the expenses for accommodation and food for all those officials?”
Speaking on October 3 on a call-in show on the 7-January Youth Facebook page, Kosal Chum—Secretary of State of Cambodia’s Ministry of Information and a member of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP)—angrily challenged charges that the hiring of the 787 Dream Jet from the firm Deer Jet had cost so much.
“That’s wrong! From where did you get such information? It’s actually $70,000 an hour,” Kosal Chum told a caller who had quoted the higher price.
‘Idiots who deserve to be jailed’
Meanwhile, speaking to a gathering of school teachers during World Teachers Day on October 5, Hun Sen called those accusing him of extravagance in the hiring of the plane “idiots who deserve to be jailed.”
“It was not that expensive to hire that plane,” he said.
“We had to hire the plane to accommodate a lot of people. Did they want me to walk or swim to New York?”
Requests for clarification of the cost of the trip from government spokesman Phay Siphan, from the State Secretariat for Civil Aviation, and from Deer Jet received no response.
Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service, Sorn Chey—executive director of the Cambodia-based Affiliated Network for Social Accountability—said the prime minister, who recently won re-election in a national vote widely condemned as unfree and unfair, should honor earlier promises made to cut back on the number of officials invited to accompany him in public appearances or on foreign trips.
“I think that when it comes to spending too much money on his travels, Hun Sen should limit the number of his officials who go with him,” Sorn Chey said.