Prime Minister Hun Sen has formed a committee to investigate whether the government should end its contract with a Taiwanese company given land around Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium in return for renovating the facility.
In a directive signed Jan 2 and obtained Friday, Hun Sen called for the 12-person inter-ministerial committee to “investigate and solve all relevant problems with the contract for repairing Olympic Stadium.”
In May 2000, the Yuanta Group signed an agreement with the government to renovate the stadium, reportedly at a cost of $3.6 million. In return, the Taiwanese company was given the right to build along the lengthy perimeter of the 1960s-era complex.
The panel must now determine whether the Yuanta Group fulfilled its obligations in renovating the stadium, examine construction being conducted by the company and, if necessary, devise a legal rationale for canceling the contract, according to Hun Sen’s directive.
Officials with Yuanta Group could not be reached for comment Sunday.
Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said the committee was formed partly in response to a request by SRP lawmaker Son Chhay asking for an examination of Yuanta Group’s actions.
“If the construction is in conformity with the contract, then there is no problem,” he added.
The committee consists of officials from the ministries of Education, Finance, Justice and Land Management. Officials from the Phnom Penh Municipality, the Council for the Development of Cambodia and the Council of Ministers’ Council of Jurists are also members.
In January 2004 the Cambodian Football Federation forfeited its right to host the Tiger Cup football tournament at the stadium, due to major plumbing and electrical problems. Then-CFF President Khek Ravy said at the time that a capacity crowd would have resulted in sewage flowing onto the stadium’s pitch.
In February 2005, Ministry of Education officials said they were unhappy with renovations to the stadium, and had ordered additional changes to the tune of $340,000.
Son Chhay said Sunday he doubted the committee was formed because of his September 2006 letter to Hun Sen urging a halt to construction near the stadium.
“I think the government has its own agenda,” he said, adding that the government’s initial response to his letter had been to tell him to stop asking “the same question over and over again.”
A possible motive for investigating the Taiwanese firm could be the government’s close ties with China, which claims Taiwan for its own, Son Chhay claimed. Cambodia has for years followed a strict One China Policy.
But the committee’s real target could be Prince Norodom Ranariddh, since during the 2003 national election campaign, the CPP often alleged that the prince had inked the deal, Son Chhay said.
The deal in 2000 was made between the company and the Ministry of Education.
Prince Sisowath Thomico, whose Sangkum Jatiniyum Front Party is aligned with Prince Ranariddh, said the prince has previously been accused of selling the stadium to Taiwanese investors.
He added that he believed the investigation was a tool being used by the CPP in a broader effort geared towards “kicking [Prince] Ranariddh out of the country and out of politics.”
Khieu Kanharith denied that the committee was politically motivated. Committee member Hy Sophea, a Justice Ministry secretary of state, said the committee had met once but not yet started its investigation. He declined further comment.
(Additional reporting by Emily Lodish)