Cambodian Parliament Panel Chief Questions Management of Angkor Wat Revenue

cambodia-tourism-minister-thong-khun-nov19-2014.jpg Cambodia's Minister of Tourism Thong Khun (L) speaks to reporters after a meeting in Phnom Penh to discuss ticket revenue at the Angkor Wat temple complex, Nov. 19, 2014.

A parliamentary commission leader wants Cambodia’s tourism ministry to manage revenue generated by the country’s iconic Angkor Wat temple complex, amid concerns that the government is losing money by retaining a private company to oversee ticket sales.

“I request that his excellency [Tourism Minister Thong Khun] manage tickets for tourists who visit Angkor Wat,” Yem Ponhearith, chairman of the Commission on Education, Youth, Sport, Religious Affairs, Culture and Tourism said after a closed-door meeting on Wednesday.

“The government has spent a lot of money, and we shouldn’t let a private company take advantage of selling the tickets. I urge the Ministry of Tourism to sell the tickets,” said the chairman, who is a leader of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).

In the past, the opposition had charged that Angkor Wat ticket sales figures had been underreported.

A quasi-government group, Apsara Authority, which is responsible for conservation and tourist development of the Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, has contracted private firm Sokha Co. to oversee ticket sales at the temple complex. The company is owned by prominent businessman and former ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) lawmaker Sok Kong.

Sok Kong is chief executive of Sokimex Group, a conglomerate involved in petroleum product imports, infrastructure development, hotel management, residential projects, and a helicopter airline.

After the meeting Wednesday, Thong Khun told reporters that he did not know how much ticket revenue Angkor Wat generated, because revenue was managed by the finance ministry and Apsara.

He said the tourism ministry could only claim that about 4.2 million people visited Angkor Wat last year, and that revenue from tourism-related services—such as hotels, restaurants, and transportation—which employ about 50,000 workers, reached U.S. $2.5 billion annually.

“I have requested that the commission ask Apsara Authority directly,” he said.

But Thong Khun said he couldn’t immediately respond to Yem Ponhearith’s request that the tourism ministry manage ticket sales.

Created by royal decree in 1995, Apsara Authority falls under the technical supervision of the presidency of the Council of Ministers and the financial supervision of the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, who is also Minister for the Office of the Council of Ministers, supervises the Apsara Authority.

Corruption allegations

Kem Sokha, deputy president of the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), had last year accused Apsara Authority of underreporting revenue.

At the time, he said the firm earned about U.S. $200 million from ticket sales to Angkor Wat in 2012, although little of the revenue went to the national budget.

In March 2012, an anonymous group filed a corruption complaint with the country’s Anti-Corruption Unit, accusing Sokimex of siphoning off most of the ticket revenue and calling the contract between the government and the company “irregular,” according to The Phnom Penh Post.

Bun Narith, Apsara Authority’s general director, dismissed the allegations as baseless, the report said.

Reported by Ouk Savborey for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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