Despite having spent $29 million on its construction and another $400,000 on a lavish opening ceremony on July 7, the new National Assembly building still lacks a key basic: telephones.
Several lawmakers spoken to Aug 10 said that their offices are still without phones, fax machines and computers—devices that some said are key for keeping in contact with their constituents.
“It is difficult when villagers want to contact us for help,” said SRP lawmaker Sok Pheng. “We were hoping to come to the new place with equipment. It looks cool and handsome, but it doesn’t have anything.”
Funcinpec lawmaker Khieu San said that he is currently spending around $200 per month out of his own pocket just to keep in touch with his constituents via mobile phone.
“I need a computer the most— e-mail and a telephone,” Khieu San said, adding that he believed the Assembly would provide the equipment soon.
But National Assembly Deputy Secretary-General Chan Ven said that funding shortages mean the equipment won’t be showing up anytime soon.
“There is no money and there is no plan,” he said. “There is only dependence on international donors.”
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap, who chaired the Assembly commission on the construction of the new facility, said that the building is wired for telephone and internet service, but lawmakers would have to install their own equipment. He added that diplomatic visits were to blame for the budget shortfall.
“The National Assembly this year doesn’t have the budget because of a lot of visits abroad,” as well as unticipated state visits to Cambodia, said Cheam Yeap, who also chairs the Assembly’s finance commission.
SRP lawmaker Son Chhay said the lack of communications equipment was “unacceptable” given the cost of the building—which boasts a number of colossal statues and two-story-high relief carvings.
“They spent all this money on fancy furniture and the building, but these are the tools MPs use,” he said. “I have to run to the coffee shop to check on information.”
Mar Sophal, monitoring chief for the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said that the lack of equipment was slowing down the processes by which lawmakers bring the grievances of the people to the government’s attention.
“Look at the new building,” he said. “It should have had the budget.” (Additional reporting by John Maloy)