Fuses Blow Over Buddhist Institute’s Power Electricity

More than a year after opening its new complex, the Buddhist Institute’s electrical wiring still isn’t complete, and the situation is making the German NGO footing the generator bill a tad upset.

The Japanese NGO that constructed the facility acknowledged last week that it was criticized by visiting representatives of the German Heinrich Boll Foun­dation for not completing the electrical hook-up.

“They said that our master plan on the facility rehabilitation project was so poor that the facility is still not connected to electricity,” said Sakaeo Kato, director of the Japanese Shanti Volunteer As­soci­ation, but the Japanese NGO says it simply ran out of money.

The two NGOs operate the religious institute, with the German NGO running the li­braries including 18 provincial branches, while the Japanese NGO publishes and distributes textbooks in Khmer.

Under the bilateral agreement, the German NGO supplies generator power. At the old complex at Wat Ounalom that meant back-up power, but now the Ger­mans have to pay daily generator expenses, said Yi Thon, the institute’s project manager from the Japanese NGO.

Representatives of the German NGO left Cambodia before they could be contacted. Heike Losch­mann, the group’s Bang­kok-based regional director, confirmed by e-mail that there is an issue, but said that he needs more time to explain it and that he is too busy organizing a conference there.

German embassy officials in Phnom Penh said they were unaware of the controversy.

The controversy started soon after the Japanese built the new facility near the former Tonle Bassac Theater in May 1998.

Yi Thon explained that the government changed the location and it cost more to fill the new site. The Khmer-style architecture also cost more than projected, he added.

“If we had enough money, we could have connected the electricity. But we had to spend all the money building the facility because the plan changed,” Yi Thon said.

The construction was paid for by a $500,000 donation by the Japanese religious group The Risho Kosei-kai Funds for Peace.

The Japanese NGO since has asked its donor to approve a second, $300,000 phase that would include electricity hookup and the construction of a fence, but the donor has not agreed, officials said.

The German organization has promised the institute it will start to raise money to finance the electricity hook-up, said Buddhist Institute Director Om Khem.

Minister of Cults and Religion Chea Saboeurn said the government will pay the electric bill every month once the facility is connected. But until then, he said, the issue needs to be worked out among the two NGOs.

Meanwhile, in order to save costs, Om Khem said the generator is only being used during the day. “During night we bring electricity from a private power supplier to light up the complex.”

 

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