Tourism Minister Unsure of Land Swap Details

A Municipal Tourism Depart­ment official said Monday that it re­mains unclear how much will be paid to his 30-member staff as part of the controversial deal to obtain the site where a now-demolished French colonial-era building once housed the tourism office on Siso­wath Quay.

Lim Sinith, chief of the tourism de­­partment’s tourism industry bur­­eau, said his staff might only get $40,000.

Earlier this month, Lim Sinith acknowledged that his department had swapped its 1930s riverfront offices with the New Hope Com­pany in exchange for $100,000 cash and a newly renovated villa on Street 73 in Daun Penh district’s Srah Chak commune.

Lim Sinith said the money from the New Hope company was gi­ven as a charitable donation to staff.

“I am not sure if they will offer $100,000 or $40,000,” he said by telephone.

“I don’t know clearly yet,” he added. “It will be in envelopes containing about $200 or $300 each.”

New Hope’s owner, Lay Bunpa, said he plans to build a 100-room, 6- to 10-story hotel where the tourism building once stood.

Earlier this year, New Hope was also awarded the contract to construct a new Ministry of National Assembly and Senate Relations building on a public garden in Ton­­le Bassac commune.

New Hope agreed to pay for the cost of the ministry in exchange for half the land at the site, officials said.

Though New Hope does not have offices, Lay Bunpa said Mon­day that he is running his construction and development business from his home and that the company has been in operation since the 1980s. It intentionally keeps a low profile, he said.

“I don’t want the media to write about me,” he said. “I don’t want many people to know about me too much.”

Mam Bun Neang, Phnom Penh’s first vice governor and the official in charge of the city’s property bidding processes, said Mon­day he has had no dealings with New Hope.

“I am the head of all the bidding processes, but I have never re­ceived any applications from that company,” he said.

Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuk­tema said earlier this month that there was no need to open the swap of the tourism department’s prime riverfront real estate to competitive bidding.

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