The National Center for Parasitology, Entomology and Malaria Control is moving from its prime location on Monivong Boulevard to a mostly deserted street on the outskirts of Phnom Penh in yet another swap of state land with a private firm, company officials confirmed Wednesday.
Piphup Asia Trading Co. Ltd., owned by businessman Norng Savuth, has built the malaria center, previously located in Chamkar Mon district, a new complex in Sen Sok district’s Phnom Penh Thmei commune, surrounded by empty fields and accessed by a newly paved private road.
“We already swapped the land with the government,” said a man who answered a number listed for the company and identified himself as Mr. Savuth’s assistant. “We paid some money and we built them two new buildings on a bigger space.”
“We do not know what to do with the old malaria building yet,” he added. “Municipal Hall asks that we help to develop the city.”
The assistant declined to comment on how much money was paid to the government.
The price of land in Phnom Penh Thmei commune ranges from $600 to $700 per square meter, according to Hin Socheat, deputy head of research at the Bonna Realty Group. At the ministry’s current location in Boeng Keng Kang I commune, land sells for $3,000 to $3,500 per square meter.
Prime Minister Hun Sen has previously denounced land swaps —especially those of hospitals and schools—but the lopsided exchanges, which see valuable state-owned property swapped with private companies for a new building on cheaper land, still occur frequently.
Although workers at the old malaria center building have been transporting truckloads of documents and furniture to the new location since Monday, Ministry of Health officials claimed ignorance when contacted Wednesday.
“Oh they changed to a new place? Since when?” asked Heng Taykry, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Health. “I do not know about the swap. But I always hear of the swapping here and there.”
However, Siv Sovannaroth, chief of the malaria center’s technical bureau, confirmed the move and said some workers are unhappy about the distance it adds to their daily commute.
“For me, it’s OK because I live in the middle,” he said. “But some other workers are not so happy.”
Mr. Sovannaroth added that staff at the center have been told that everything must be moved into the new office by the end of the week.