Five years after a Japanese company signed a 30-year agreement to manage the Choeung Ek killing fields memorial site, the second stage of the company’s financial arrangement with Phnom Penh municipality has not yet been finalized, the site’s general manager said Thursday.
In April 2005, it was made public that JC Royal—a little-known Japanese company linked to members of the ruling CPP—had been granted an exclusive 30-year contract to promote and manage the Choeung Ek genocide memorial as a tourist destination.
In exchange for the concession to manage the well-visited memorial, JC Royal was required to pay just $15,000 a year to the Phnom Penh Municipality for the first five years of the contract. This time period has now elapsed, but Choeung Ek’s general manager, Chour Sokty, does not know what the new annual payment arrangement with City Hall will be.
“We don’t know the next plan yet,” Mr Sokty said yesterday.
“We [will] probably give the same share [of money] to City Hall as we have been doing since around five years ago, since it was privatized for the firm at $15,000 annually,” he said.
Municipal Governor Kep Chuktema declined to speak to a reporter about the killing fields privatization deal yesterday, referring questions to his cabinet chief Nuon Sameth. Reached by phone Thursday, Mr Sameth declined to comment when asked about the deal, saying he was busy.
Despite the lack of information about financial arrangements, the site’s manager Mr Sokty said there are plans afoot to increase the price of admission for foreigners.
The $1 general admission fee will soon rise to $3 for non-Cambodians, he said.
“We are planning to increase the ticket price to $3 in the near future, which is why we have made a survey from visitors,” Mr Sokty said in an interview at Choeung Ek Thursday.
“About 70 percent of visitors said it is okay [to raise the price], while a number expressed suspicion and doubted why we need to raise up the price and where the money goes to,” he said.
Youk Chhang, the Documentation Center of Cambodia’s executive director, said Thursday that he was disappointed that the private company controlling the Choeung Ek site was going to up the cost of entry.
“How can you sell the memory of a nation?” Mr Chhang asked, adding that the privatization of the memorial had commercialized what he believes is a sacred site.
Financial figures provided by Mr Sokty show that the number of visitors to Choeung Ek in the first quarter of 2010 increased significantly from the same period in 2009.
From Jan 1 to March 31 this year, the figures show that 67,013 people visited the site, compared to 56,758 in 2009’s first quarter.
The figures show that 59,752 of the visitors in the first three months of 2010 were foreigners, meaning the site made $119,504 in gate takings during the quarter alone.
According to Mr Sokty, after the $15,000 is paid to City Hall each year, the gate takings at Choeung Ek are transferred from JC Royal to the Sun Fund, an education fund reportedly established by Prime Minister Hun Sen in 2002 that sponsors Cambodian students.
Chea Vandeth, chief of cabinet for Cabinet Minister Sok An, who in 2005 was JC Royal’s chairman and the Sun Fund’s secretary-general, said Tuesday that he would not be able to answer questions about the Choeung Ek site until after the three-day King’s Birthday holiday.