When the new National Assembly was inaugurated in July, flags were flown, roads were blocked off for the thousands who attended and officials praised the $29-million building as a symbol of democracy in action. But now, over three months later, lawmakers are voicing concerns over the building’s continuing lack of basic resources and journalists are still looking for a place to sit while covering parliamentary debates.
SRP lawmaker Chea Poch said that he doesn’t even go to his Assembly office these days because he is able to accomplish more from his party’s headquarters.
“I’ve only visited my office one time since it opened,” he said, adding that without a telephone, a computer or even paper to write on he can’t get any work done.
“There are no materials for the lawmakers,” he said. “There’s only the room.”
Funcinpec lawmaker Monh Saphan said that the new building is hurting his ability to help his constituents.
“There is no Internet and no landline to communicate with constituents,” he said, adding that with no cleaning staff on hand, the Assembly is becoming an unsavory place to work.
CPP lawmaker Min Sean said that without an Internet connection he is also finding it difficult to do his job. “We are facing problems, especially regarding research,” he said.
Hul Buntha, Assembly deputy secretary-general, said that his office is still studying the matter and has not yet come up with a way to provide lawmakers with these basic services. He added that the reason for the delay is simple: “We don’t have the budget.”
As a temporary measure, nine computers have been set up in an onsite “Internet cafe” that the 123 lawmakers can use for free, he said, adding that the Assembly is seeking funds from the South Korean government to buy computers.
Hul Buntha said the Assembly has just finished interviewing cleaning and gardening staff and they should begin working next month.
Local journalists, who can spend up to 20 hours per week covering parliamentary debates, have also complained about the total lack of seating in the building’s pressroom.
“They spent a lot of money for the building, but they could not afford to pay for chairs,” Chhun Sophal, deputy editor-in-chief for Samne Thmey newspaper, said last week while sitting on the pressroom floor. “It’s not appropriate for reporters to sit on the floor.”
“The National Assembly should have a suitable place for reporters because it is a national institution,” said Pen Samithi, president of the Club of Cambodian Journalists.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap, who chaired the Assembly commission charged with overseeing the construction of the new building, said he didn’t know why journalists were being forced to sit on the floor, but added that the Assembly is working to build a new air-conditioned pressroom, complete with chairs.
“Reporters are important for the National Assembly…. The room is a temporary room,” he said, but added that he did not know when the new room would be completed.
Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said that reporters only have themselves to blame for the lack of seating.
“Newspapers said that the National Assembly spent too much money, so they returned the chairs to save money,” he said.