Opposition Criticizes Theater Renovation Costs

Opposition party parliamentarian Son Chhay is alleging the government has unfairly awarded a local construction company a contract to renovate Chakto­muk Theater without taking lower-priced bids into consideration.

In a letter sent last week, Son Chhay demanded Finance Min­is­ter Keat Chhon explain the job’s approximately $3.5 million price tag. He claims at least three other firms submitted bids that are almost $2 million less.

“This is not the first time this type of contract is used,” Son Chhay said, referring to the practice of over-billing the government. “Many contracts just benefit the pockets of the corrupt. The prices were so different it makes me wonder about this case.”

Keat Chhon on Tuesday ac­know­­ledged receiving Son Chhay’s letter, but said he would have to wait for his staff to complete their report before he could comment on the costs. He said his office received the $3.5 million figure from the Ministry of Culture.

Renovations to the aging theater were announced last month and work is under way. The building, which in recent years was the venue for performances by the Royal University of Fine Arts, will be converted into a convention center, according to Hang Soth, director of the Min­istry of Culture’s art department.

Government officials said the job must be completed by Nov­em­ber, when Cambodia expects to host an Asia-Pacific Assembly meeting of 44 regional countries. Son Chhay said Monday he also wants Keat Chhon to answer questions regarding the use of international aid money.

“What exactly are the government’s plans to improve [Cam­bodia’s] income?” he asked. “How much money does Cam­bodia owe in total and what has been the result of using this aid money?” (Additional reporting by Seth Meixner)

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