The Council of Ministers has revealed that its new Airbus A320, meant for shuttling Prime Minister Hun Sen and a select few others around the world, is being leased from China Southern Airlines but refrained from disclosing how much the deal was worth.
Last month, CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said the government had purchased the plane—which has an estimated price tag of $91.5 million—before retracting the claim and stating that it was being leased. He went on to say that only Mr. Hun Sen and Mao Havanall, secretary of state at the State Secretariat for Civil Aviation, were privy to the details.
But on Friday, the Press and Quick Reaction Unit at the Council of Ministers said in a statement that the 150-seat plane, first used to fly King Norodom Sihamoni and Queen Mother Norodom Monineath to China last month, was being leased from China Southern.
“The plane used to fly the King and Queen Mother to Beijing on February 21, 2013, is the plane that the Royal Government leased from China Southern Airlines Company Limited through a monopoly leasing agreement (Aircraft Charter Agreement) made between the State Secretariat for Civil Aviation and the above company,” the statement reads.
“This airplane is for use by the top national leaders, such as: King and Queen Mother; delegations lead by Senate President Chea Sim; delegations lead by National Assembly President Heng Samrin; delegations lead by Prime Minister Hun Sen; and use in other necessary and urgent cases,” the statement adds.
Although the statement does not say how much the government is paying to lease the plane, it claims that the deal will not cost the government more than it already pays to charter flights from national carrier Cambodia Angkor Air.
“Because of their friendship, both parties have agreed that the annual lease will not cost more than the average price to lease the special planes the leaders have used in the past,” according to the statement.
Quick Reaction Unit spokesman Ek Tha referred all questions about the deal’s price tag to Council of Ministers Secretary of State Tek Retsamrech, who could not be reached.
China Southern could not be reached, either, and a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy said he did not know about the deal.
The secrecy surrounding the deal has led the opposition SRP to question the economics of the agreement. Last week, SRP lawmaker Son Chhay said that he planned to bring the matter up for debate at the National Assembly.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan conceded that the government had a duty to reveal the cost of the deal to the public.
“They have a responsibility, but [I am] not the right person to share with you,” he said, referring questions back to the Quick Reaction Unit.
Without knowing the details of the deal, Mr. Siphan nonetheless insisted last week that it would save the government money. He said senior officials spend up to $3 million a year on flights with Angkor Air and other commercial carriers.