Minister of Education Tol Lah Wednesday defended controversial Olympic Stadium renovations as being necessary for the complex’s survival, and said contractual obligations prevented the government from stopping work on the stadium.
“We in the government regarded the stadium as a national heritage site, and that is why we needed to find a way to renovate it. If we let it be, we would have only had regret,” he said at the Council of Ministers.
The project has come under fire from activists who say the commercial and residential buildings surrounding the stadium have destroyed one of Phnom Penh’s landmarks.
Critics, including lawmakers from the Sam Rainsy Party and Funcinpec, have called for the demolition of those buildings.
Using a scale model of the stadium complex, Dy Bun Sinto, an official from the Ministry of Land Management, Urbanization and Construction, defended the buildings surrounding the stadium, saying that if people want a view of the complex, they just need to go to a different vantage point.
He acknowledged that the four buildings along Sihanouk Boulevard block the view of the complex, but said there are gaps between them through which people can clearly see the stadium.
The government agreed to renovate the stadium in May 2000 when Prime Minister Hun Sen brokered a deal between the Taiwan-based Yuanta Group and the Ministry of Education, which is the ward of the land.
Tol Lah said that the Yuanta Group divided the work into two parts: A $1.6 million renovation of the stadium and athletic complex and a $2 million renovation of the stadium’s sewage and drainage systems. Once those renovations are complete, the stadium will be handed back to the Ministry of Education, he said.
Following that handover, the Yuanta Group will finish building the commercial buildings, Tol Lah said. The Yuanta Group will pay a rental fee to the city and have a 70-year lease on the property. The company will pay $100,000 a year for the first 35 years and $160,000 after that.
The Yuanta Group sent several letters to the ministry requesting that the handover be delayed because there were more renovations than the contract called for. “The ministry has agreed to let them finish in January 2003,” Tol Lah said, despite criticisms of the slow pace of work.
But he said that construction could not be halted because the government has a standing contract with Yuanta.
Only if the company stopped work for six months or if it failed to pay rent for two years can construction be stopped.
“All of the company’s activities have been examined by the ministry; the company cannot act arbitrarily,” Tol Lah said.