Support for a drinking water company owned by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s daughter is drying up after the firm provided elderly residents of Cambodia’s Kampong Thom province with free coffins and other funeral supplies, leading social media users to label the stunt disrespectful.
On Thursday, Hun Mana’s Vital Premium Water Company distributed drinking water to Kampong Thom’s Prasath Balaing district, as well as more than 20 coffins, white cloth for covering the deceased, and other funerary items.
Members of the Union of Youth Federations of Cambodia—which is directed by Hun Mana’s brother, Hun Many—were on hand to deliver the gifts, saying they had been requested by elderly residents and that there was “no ill will” meant in the gesture.
Photos taken at the event of bewildered-looking villagers sitting in plastic chairs next to coffins soon made the rounds on local media websites, as well as on social media sites such as Facebook, where they drew condemnation from netizens who called the gifts “inappropriate” and “offensive.”
Commenters suggested that a better gesture might have involved donations of medicine or the construction of senior centers to help improve the lives of the elderly.
A staff member who answered the phone at the Vital Premium Water Company refused to comment when asked for clarification about the event by RFA’s Khmer Service on Friday.
Luon Savath, an award-winning rights activist known as the “multimedia monk,” told RFA that the gifts had frightened residents of Prasath Balaing instead of bringing them comfort, noting that Hun Sen has previously issued threats against villagers there who have opposed his rule.
“No one wants to die—they don’t want coffins when they are still alive,” the monk said.
“People need to live with dignity. They need food, shelter, employment, land for farming, access to free medical care and rights, and other basic needs,” he said.
“We need to help to people to live as long as they can. We should not encourage them to die.”
More appropriate gifts could include medicine, cash donations, clothing or food, Luon Savath said, adding that keeping a coffin at one’s home is “unpleasant and scary for young people.”
A July 2016 report by London-based Global Witness found that Hun Sen’s family members are “amassing vast personal fortunes in Cambodia’s private sector, and wield significant control across most of its lucrative industries,” with links to major international brands including Apple, Nokia, Visa, Procter & Gamble, Nestlé and Honda.
Hun Sen’s family has a combined wealth “estimated to total between U.S. $500 million and U.S. $1 billion,” the report said, while 40 percent of Cambodians still live below or close to the poverty line.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.