Information Ministry Proposes $300 Million Center For Retirees

In what would be among the costliest government buildings in history, the information minister has announced plans for a $300 million facility where retired civil servants could train for jobs and earn extra income while working at a production studio, archive and museum.

Information Minister Khieu Kanharith, who has said he will retire in 2018, announced plans for the center at a gathering of over 300 ministry retirees on Wednesday, saying he wanted to help them earn extra income as contractors after their mandatory retirement at age 60.

cam photo info center bp WEBKHMER
Information Minister Khieu Kanharith, left, greets retired ministry employees at an event in Phnom Penh on Wednesday. (AKP)

“We plan to build a commercial center soon to create jobs for the retired people from the Information Ministry, and the building project will cost more than $300 million,” he said yesterday by telephone. “I don’t want to give further comment because I am afraid someone will steal my project.”

The project dwarfs the $18.2 million allocated to the ministry in the national budget for this year. It would also be magnitudes more expensive than recent government buildings, including the $32.9 million, Chinese-funded Council of Ministers building completed in 2008 and the $8 million Environment Ministry office completed last year.

The center’s budget would also exceed most private sector projects, including the $170 million, 39-story Vattanac Tower completed in 2014.

Ministry spokesman Ouk Kimseng said yesterday that he had not seen plans for the facility, but that the ministry had already begun work on a half-hectare of land behind its Monivong Boulevard headquarters for the center, which might be completed as early as July.

Both Mr. Kimseng and Sok Mom Nimul, director-general of the ministry’s state news agency AKP, were uncertain about the specifics of the plans, but agreed that the priority would be employing retired civil servants.

“The ministry will invite those retirees to be advisers and assistants to help work after the building is finished,” Mr. Kimseng said, later adding that a second, larger facility would ultimately be built on the outskirts of the city with help from private investors.

“There will be a studio for audio editing, film editing [and] music recording,” he said. “People can come and work for the time being,” helping the ministry as well as private companies who hire the space to produce television and radio programs.

The space would also include a job training center, museum and archives holding thousands of photos and videos.

Ms. Mom Nimul said the facility would first focus on employing 300 or so 60- to 70-year-old former ministry employees as contractors, with the goal of ultimately employing 2,000 people.

“The minister said during his speech to the retired civil servants yesterday that he will submit a letter to Samdech Hun Sen requesting a $300 million loan to build the center that we could pay back to the government every year when we make money from it,” she said.

Mr. Kimseng said the high price tag came from the second and larger planned facility where the retirees and studios would eventually be relocated, but was also unsure about what it would contain.

“I don’t know all about the particulars about that,” he said. “There will be a big media center.” Cedric Elroy,  an international adviser to the Cambodia Film Commission, said the industry would welcome a high-quality, centrally-located studio.

“Domestic productions need a facility that can be accessed easily and allows daily filming without having to accommodate the whole crew and cast,” he wrote in an email. “If the target is the domestic market, it’s a high investment. If it’s for international standards, it’s a medium investment.”

Preap Kol, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia, applauded the intention to help retirees, but questioned the means of doing so.

“What is the prospect of profit compared to the upfront investment, considering and taking into account loan plus interests? [Are] there other better ways to support them?” he asked. “I guess I could not comment until I know these answers.”

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