Ampil commune, Siem Reap province – Sixteen kilometers outside Siem Reap city, a veritable new capital city is rising fast from a field of dust. Due to a massive land swap with a local construction company, the Siem Reap provincial government plans to pick up next month and move operations to this 42-hectare site in Ampil commune’s tiny Angkoum village, currently reachable only by a dirt road some 20 minutes outside the country’s main tourist town.
“It is a special plan, and it is good for providing efficient services,” deputy provincial governor Bun Tharith said this week.
According to Mr Tharith, every provincial government department will move to the new site except for the Department of Meteorology, which uses specialized equipment and must stay put. Buildings have already been completed to house nine of the offices, including the provincial government headquarters and the departments of Finance, Social Affairs and Tourism.
In exchange for the new site and buildings, the provincial government will hand over to the J & R Import, Export and Construction Company a number of buildings in downtown Siem Reap city, many of them located on valuable riverfront land.
“The old buildings will be handed over to the company for investment,” Mr Tharith said. “This happens in every developed country…. It’s the exchange of the area between the company and the government.”
Mr Tharith said he could not comment on the details of the land swap or how much the new complex cost, referring questions to the Interior Ministry, which he said had ultimate authority over the deal with J & R. However, Prum Sokha, secretary of state at the Interior Ministry, referred all questions on the massive government land swap back to the provincial authorities.
Attempts to contact the J & R company were unsuccessful.
Sung Bonna, the director of Bonna Realty in Siem Reap city, estimated that land on main roads in town is currently worth between $500 and $1,000 per square meter on the open market. But he added prices in the town very much depend on the exact location.
Swapping land is also not like the open market for land, he added.
“Normally the way of the market is different from the way of exchange or barter.”
Moa Yin, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said she was concerned the relocation of government offices 20 minutes out of town would make it difficult to get in touch with local authorities to file complaints or ask for intervention.
“If they move the office, we may move over there too,” she said. “It would be difficult to take the time to drive a motorbike out there-it’s too far.”
But Mr Tharith, the deputy governor, claimed the remote relocation would eventually spur development in the area.
“Development must have some sacrifices,” he added.
During a visit to the site this week, around 45 separate brick-and-plaster buildings had already been built in the complex, and more are still rising. They are painted in pale shades of yellow and pink and gray and flanged with rough, hyper-stylized naga heads. Some of the offices are as small as 10 meters by 10 meters-they will be “government showrooms,” a construction worker at the site said-while some are much larger.
The spacious new provincial hall features curving staircases and a courtyard with a tiered fountain as its centerpiece.
“This place is very good and very clean and very far from the city,” said construction worker Sok Phal, pausing as he hammered new sidewalk tiles into the dust.