The Ministry of Post and Telecommunications’ operations are in the process of being privatized into two semi-state-owned enterprises, MPTC Minister So Khun said Thursday. He also defended a claim by Minister of Finance Keat Chhon that MPTC owed his ministry $30 million.
“We have already set up a board of directors for Telecom Cambodia Inc…meaning that all state property will be transferred to the board of directors to run the business,” So Khun said.
Telecom Cambodia will operate the 023 land line service in the country and international connecting service, while Post Cambodia Enterprise will be set up later this year to take over the delivery of the mail, So Khun said.
“We will make them like… Electricity du Cambodge or the Sihanoukville port: Half-state-owned, half-private,” he said.
An inter-ministerial committee is making an assessment of the value of the ministry’s property, including its main building.
“Telecom Cambodia will start first…. For the Post enterprise, we are preparing a sub-degree,” So Khun said.
Finance Minister Keat Chhon on Monday, after a meeting with donors about public financial management reform, lamented the difficulty of collecting non-tax revenue, from visas, over flights—and from the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications.
Claiming MPTC owes the Finance Ministry about $30 million, Keat Chhon said: “The Finance Ministry will take action to force MPTC to pay.”
So Khun admitted Thursday his ministry owes the money, but blamed private companies—and other state ministries—for the shortfall.
“Yes, my ministry owes the state, but we did not ‘lose’ the money…. Why? Because the user uses our service and pays the bill later,” he said.
So Khun said that private companies owe MPTC $16 million while other state ministries owes it $12.33 million for the use of phones. He also said that MobiTel mobile phones owe it $400,000; Camshin, $900,000; and Samart, $67,000 in interconnection fees.
He said that a committee will be established to resolve the amounts owed by private phone companies to the government and amounts owed by other state ministries to the phone companies.
The minister said that MPTC revenue was about $36 million in 2004, $15 million from post and $21 million from telephone. He said that it had collected $194 million out of $222 million owed to it between 1994 and 2004.
MobiTel chief executive Kith Meng said he was in the US on Thursday and could not comment, while MobiTel general manager David Spriggs said he did not know about the fees owed to the government.
Samart CEO Somchai Lertwiset-Theerakul said he did not know about the fees owed.
Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay on Thursday criticized the moves to partially privatize MPTC’s operations and blasted it for losing revenue in recent years when telephone use has skyrocketed.
“By creating this so-called private enterprise when there is no understanding of how much revenue should be collected, it will legalize what has been going on for many years in the MPTC…the transfer of money from the budget into the pockets of high-ranking officials and the ruling party,” he said.
Son Chhay said that the government is not properly verifying the number of international calls made from mobile phone users and that up to 50 percent of calls may not be charged fees.
“This process has not been done in a clear and transparent manner…. There was no debate allowed in the parliament as happened in Australia when they privatized their telephone company,” he said. “Without a public assessment of the value of state property, there will be great losses to the national budget,” he added.
In his presentation, So Khun said that there are just 33,535 land lines throughout Cambodia while there are 698,410 mobile phone users.