Prime Minister Hun Sen said last week that a large building under construction next to the Council of Ministers office was not only designed to house his new office, as government officials had said in May, but would also be used as an international conference center.
“An international conference center is under construction close by the Council of Ministers building. I drew the building plan myself, I designed it to be 120 meters by 45 meters, it had five floors, but it was [later] calculated to have seven floors,” Mr Hun Sen said Wednesday while speaking at a graduation ceremony at the National Institute of Education in Phnom Penh.
“With the help of China, we built the Council of Ministers building, but now we construct the new building [by ourselves] for the next generation. It is not only for me and for how long I can stay,” he said.
Mr Hun Sen said that a conference center was needed to host international events such as the 2012 Asean Summit, because during recent international events in Cambodia, foreign delegations have had to move from one hotel to another to attend conference meetings.
In May, construction had started at the site of the new building just east of the Council of Ministers building on Russian Boulevard. The project was then announced on a billboard as the “Prime Minister Office Building.”
Government officials at the time said the building was commissioned because the meeting rooms in the new Council of Ministers building, where the prime minister previously held court, lacked space to accommodate sizable crowds or receptions. Officials also declined to comment on how the property was obtained and what the construction cost of the new building was.
The current Council of Ministers building cost $32.9 million and was paid for by a loan from the Chinese government. When it was opened in March, it was reported that the design and decor of the building had caused some consternation among senior officials.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said Thursday that the new building would be finished in November and would be “a government palace” for international conferences, adding he did not know what the new building’s construction costs were.
Mr Siphan repeated claims that meeting rooms of the current Council of Ministers building were “too small” for international events, adding that the government currently had to spend “lots of money” on renting hotel space for conferences.
He said he did not know if the new building would also house the prime minister’s office.
Prak Sokhon, the Council of Ministers secretary of state in charge of the building’s construction, declined to comment Thursday on the apparent change in the function of the new office.
SRP lawmaker Yim Sovann said he disagreed with the construction of the new building, saying the government was squandering public funds in a time of economic hardship. “The completed [Council of Ministers] building funded by China is enough for the Council and the prime minister; another building will be a waste of money,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Paul Vrieze)