The Apsara Authority, which manages the Angkor Archaeological Park in Siem Reap City, on Wednesday rejected claims made by popular opposition radio host Mam Sonando last week that the temple complex has been “rented out” to a Vietnamese company.
Mr. Sonando, a prominent government critic who owns the Beehive Radio station, said during a broadcast aired on Friday that the Angkor Wat temple complex had been leased to a Vietnamese firm for a 99-year term.
“I want to say that no matter how weak and at-risk we are, we can’t rent it out to any company,” Mr. Sonando said. “What’s the reason? You know, it’s because Angkor Wat is our national identity. There’s an image of Angkor Wat on our flag, no?
“So, if they rent it out to Vietnam—sell it, pawn it for 99 years—does our national flag have any meaning?”
In a statement Wednesday, the Apsara Authority affirmed that it alone was the body tasked with “the mission to protect, organize and preserve the historic Angkor resort.”
“Angkor Wat has not been rented out to a private company or any foreigner, or otherwise pawned or leased for 99 years, as mentioned by the Beehive Radio station,” the statement says.
Although the Sokimex Group —owned by well-connected businessman Sok Kong, who is ethnic Vietnamese but was born in Cambodia—holds the right to collect revenue from ticket sales at the temple complex, the statement says the relationship between the Apsara Authority and the company extends no further.
“The Apsara Authority does not rent Angkor out to the Sokha Hotel company [Sokimex]; rather, it has hired this company to operate the collection of revenue through ticket sales for entering Angkor, which is the simplest [type of] public administration,” it says.
The Apsara Authority said that prior to the arrangement, which began in 1999, revenues from ticket sales collected by government officials fell short of expectations.
“Basically, after revenue collection was put under direct supervision by a state institution for a period of time, and proved weak in terms of efficiency, the government decided to hire a private company to collect the revenue generated from selling tickets to visit Angkor Wat instead,” the statement says.
“But the protection, conservation and development responsibilities of the Angkor resort remain under the authority of the state institutions, especially the Aspara Authority.”
The statement says that Sokimex retains 15 percent of the revenue collected from ticket sales and sends 15 percent to a conservation fund to develop the area around the Angkor Archaeological Park, while a further 10 percent is taken as value-added tax.
The remaining 60 percent goes to the National Treasury within the Ministry of Economy and Finance.
The opposition CNRP has been calling on the government to reveal how much revenue Sokimex earns through the temple complex and the Apsara Authority’s statement provided figures for the past five years.
Ticket sales generated a total of $33.1 million in 2010, $42.1 million in 2011, $51.3 million in 2012 and $57.7 million last year, it says. In the first nine months of this year, $47.4 million was collected.
Apsara Authority communications director Im Sokrity said he had no concerns about Sokimex hiding extra revenues made through ticket sales.
“The one who issues the tickets is the Apsara Authority, and the company is the one who collects [the revenue] and returns the product,” he explained.
Soximex owner Mr. Kong said he was tired of accusations that his firm had signed a 99-year lease to run the temple complex as a business.
“They keep saying this, but it’s not true. It’s up to them if they want to make accusations,” he said.
“We only have the right to sell tickets for entrance to Angkor Wat,” he said, adding that his lease was up for renewal next year.
© 2014, The Cambodia Daily. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced in print, electronically, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without written permission.