Finance Minister Keat Chhon told National Assembly members Wednesday the controversial Naga Casino and Olympic Stadium construction projects eventually will fail as business ventures, leading to vacant pieces of real estate and the ultimate destruction of both properties.
Responding to questions by Funcinpec lawmaker Nan Sy, Keat Chhon said problems surrounding both projects mean tenants will be unwilling to commit either to the casino building—now under construction next to Hun Sen Park—or the shops and apartments surrounding the stadium.
The casino has come under fire from lawmakers, NGOs and architect Vann Molyvann for being an eyesore that overshadows the future National Assembly building and the Buddhist Institute. “The construction of the casino [adversely] affects the Buddhist center, which is highly respected by Cambodians,” Keat Chhon said.
He said he had considered quitting his government post over the issue, but reconsidered in the interest of preserving the stability of the coalition government.
The same groups have criticized the stadium project, designed decades ago by Vann Molyvann, for destroying what they consider to be a national heritage site. Keat Chhon said the stadium renovations never were submitted to the Council of Ministers for approval, a necessary step when dealing with a heritage site. But the plans were agreed upon by the Yuanta construction group and Minster of Education, Youth and Sport Tol Lah, and witnessed by Prime Minister Hun Sen, according to those involved in the project. The ministry is ward of the land that the stadium occupies.
A representative of the Yuanta group said the company has a legal contract with the government and that all of its activities are lawful. Tol Lah declined to comment, saying that Hun Sen is prepared to release a statement outlining his position on the issue and that he did not want to pre-empt the premier’s comments.
Undersecretary of State for the Ministry of Education Bou Chum Serey said the sports facilities would be transferred back into the hands of the government later this month or early next year.