Samraong City, Oddar Meanchey province – In December, Kuy Bunsorn, director-general of the General Department of Prisons (GDP), announced that ground would be broken on two new prisons in Pailin and Oddar Meanchey provinces to alleviate chronic overcrowding.
Mr. Bunsorn said that the Ministry of Finance had made $700,000 available for the two prisons, and that the contracts would go to tender.
But while both prisons appear to have received equal funds for construction, there is a marked difference in how the projects have proceeded. Prison monitors have raised concerns over the fact that there is little to show for the money made available for the Oddar Meanchey facility, while officials have been evasive about the company that won the contract.
On the outskirts of Samraong City, a red dirt path leads to the site of what will be the new Oddar Meanchey Provincial Prison, on which construction began in May. As of last month, the building was far from finished. A 70-by-80-meter brick wall surrounded a handful of cells being built inside.
Sharon Critoph, prison project consultant at rights group Licadho, said in an email last month that the lack of progress at the site was worrying.
“In the absence of any progress towards building essential prison facilities such as a health post, meeting rooms for lawyers and families, a kitchen area and administration offices, we have serious questions about what happened to the funds allocated and the prioritization of current building work,” she said.
“Even prison authorities have expressed concern about the lack of appropriate facilities.”
Compounding issues related to the construction—which is being carried out by prisoners trucked in from overcrowded cells at the provincial police station—is the fact that wells dug to serve the prison have found no groundwater.
In nearby Pailin, however, prison director Nov Thoeun said last month that the province’s new prison, which will replace the government-owned theater currently being used as a lockup, is “95 percent finished already.”
“We have built one building with five rooms, a health post and kitchen,” Mr. Thoeun said, adding that while he did not know what company had won the contract to construct the prison, it was built for the allotted $350,000. He claimed that prisoners were not used for labor.
In August, Phin Yann, the prison director in Oddar Meanchey, said a company called RV Development was in charge of building both prisons, but backpedaled a few days later and said he could not remember the name of the company.
And despite having the same amount of available funds as Mr. Thoeun, Mr. Yann has been reaching out to NGOs for money to complete the rest of the prison, according to Buthdy Sam, coordinator of the prison reform support program at the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“They don’t have buildings for women and children. No health post, no kitchens,” Mr. Sam said.
Speaking by telephone on Thursday, the GDP’s Mr. Bunsorn said he did not know why construction of the Oddar Meanchey prison was not progressing smoothly, and said authorities in Pailin must also have “requested help from other organizations.”
When asked how the $350,000 he received was being managed, he hung up on a reporter.