New Sports Club Raises Some Senators’ Ire

Sports lovers and Senate members alike can now practice their golf swing and enjoy a steamy sauna at a new facility that opened on Senate grounds last Friday.

The club features a 5-meter by 4-meter sauna room, a 200-meter-long driving range and a flower garden that might make for an attractive backdrop for karaoke videos. It is open to anyone who can afford the $1,000 yearly membership fee, Senate officials said Tuesday.

The club has no members yet, said Oum Sarith, Senate secretary-general, but at least 10 high-ranking government officials already have visited the club for free as part of an initial promotion.             The North Korea Investment Company spent $300,000 to construct the club on five hectares inside the Senate compound on Norodom Boulevard, Oum Sarith said.

An agreement with the company calls for the Senate to assume ownership of the club in five years. Until then, the company will pay about $4,000 a year in rent, which Oum Sarith said would be turned over to the Min­istry of Finance.

“This investment is a good way to reduce the government’s ex­penses,” he said.

But Fun­cin­pec Sen­ator Sam Kak­nitha said she is uncertain how the club will handle its fi­nances. She plans to raise the issue at a Senate committee meet­ing next month. “I’m wondering where this money will go,” she said.

Meanwhile, Sam Rainsy Party Senator Thach Setha said he doesn’t support the sports club, which is the second investment project the Senate has taken on. He said the Senate doesn’t need to make money by itself, since the government already provides it with an annual budget.

“It is inappropriate to create a club at a major state institution,” Thach Setha said. “If a member of the Senate wants to enjoy sports for their personal health, then they can find someplace outside the Senate.”

Last year, the Ministry of Agriculture gave the Senate two Kompong Thom fishing lots after Senate members sent a request to Prime Minister Hun Sen. The members said they needed the lots to make money.

Ngy Tayi, undersecretary of state for the Ministry of Finance, said Senate members don’t have the right to make money using state property.

If a government institution gen­­erates money, then that money must be turned over to the national treasury, he said.

Oum Sarith ex­pres­sed pride over the flower garden. He said the land where the sports club was built sat empty before, would flood periodically and “wasted state money.”

He said anyone would be able to walk through the garden for free on weekends, and he encouraged film and karaoke video producers to consider filming there.

“We want to show off our beautiful Senate compound,” Oum Sarith said. “We’re open-minded.”



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