Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay said Monday that he believes the Apsara Authority is embezzling millions of dollars from ticket sales for the Angkor Wat temple complex by underreporting and misrepresenting gate takings.
Mr. Chhay, deputy chairman of the National Assembly’s Banking and Finance Committee, and CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap, the committee’s chairman, visited the Apsara Authority’s offices in Siem Reap City in the morning to discuss ticket revenues.
The opposition lawmaker said that Apsara Authority general director Bun Narith had shared with them revenue figures going back five years, but he said the figures do not make sense given the number of tourists visiting the country.
“For 2013, 2 million people visited Angkor Wat and $55 million was collected, and for this year, up until November, only 1.8 million bought tickets for about $52 million,” Mr. Chhay said.
“They said probably about 2 million will visit the temples this year, out of about 5 million tourists coming to Cambodia, so that looks like less than about 40 percent.”
According to official figures from the Tourism Ministry, about 4.2 million tourists visited Cambodia in 2013.
Mr. Chhay said it is unreasonable to think that only 2 million of those are visiting the Angkor Archaeological Park, which is managed by the Apsara Authority but whose ticketing has been licensed out to the private Sokimex company.
“We found that about 75 to 80 percent of tourists coming to Cambodia would go to Angkor Wat,” Mr. Chhay said, explaining that he had carried out his own informal review.
“The people that come to this country probably concentrate on the temples, and Angkor Wat is the main interest of those who come to view the temples from overseas.”
“We asked them what evidence they have that only 2 million are visiting Angkor Wat,” Mr. Chhay said. “They take names and photos when they take the tickets, so it should all be on their computers but they said that it’s not available.”
Mr. Chhay said he also did not believe the Apsara Authority’s figures about the breakdown of visitors who buy $20 one-day tickets and $40 three-day tickets.
“They said that 67 percent of those who buy tickets only buy a one-day ticket,” Mr. Chhay said. “This is another big question, because in our study from talking to guides and hotel owners, travel agents and so on, we found that the majority buy three-day tickets because they can’t see it all.”
“I told them straight in the face that we cannot accept this and we need a better investigation,” Mr. Chhay said. “I don’t know how we’re going to do it; the people in the government are the ones who created the mess in the first place.”
Mr. Narith of the Apsara Authority could not be reached for comment, but the authority released a statement confirming that he had met with a delegation led by the CPP’s Mr. Yeap.
“The discussion was made with an intention to understand deeply about the maintenance, protection, and preservation of the Angkor park,” the Apsara Authority statement says.
Mr. Yeap changed his phone number in July and his assistant said last month he is no longer available to speak to the media.
Mr. Chhay on Monday also accused Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, who presides over the Apsara Authority as the minister in charge of the Council of Ministers, of conspiring to cheaply grant part of the authority’s land to Sokimex owner Sok Kong for a private hotel.
“We asked them again and again: How long did Apsara rent it out to Sok Kong, and finally they said it’s for 70 years, and that it was for $9 million for 26 hectares of land,” he said. “Now, looking at that land, this is peanuts, it’s nothing.”
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said that Mr. Chhay’s allegations were baseless.
“I have no idea what is going on with that but accusing without proof is very bad,” Mr. Siphan said. “Son Chhay should take the time to learn and study what is going on and to act professionally and not as if we’re fighting each other.”
(Additional reporting by Hul Reaksmey)
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