T HE Ministry of Culture and Arts has lost direct control of the Angkor temples in
Siem Reap, with the establishment of an autonomous conservation and tourism agency
for Siem Reap.
Senior ministry officials are unhappy with the move, following what some saw as a
power struggle between them and Minister of State Vann Moulyvann.
Moulyvann, famous for designing Phnom Penh's Independence Monument, has been appointed
vice-president of the APSARA authority.
The formation of APSARA, headed by the co-Prime Ministers, is defended as being necessary
to meet the requirements of Angkor Wat being a World Heritage Committee (WHC) site.
But the government is already running into trouble, with the WHC threatening to remove
Angkor Wat from its list of protected sites unless the government passes a new cultural
protection law soon.
Moulyvan confirmed the WHC had given the government until December to pass the law,
which was already drafted.
He hoped the deadline could be met.
Meanwhile, there are grumblings about the make-up of APSARA.
Sik Bun Hok, cabinet director of the Ministry of Culture, said the government had
formed APSARA after a proposal made by Moulyvann.
Bun Hok, who said his ministry would remain involved with APSARA, would not say whether
he was happy with the change.
"I don't want to reveal to you the internal dispute and I have no intention
to fight against the decision, to get back [Ministry of Culture] control... I wish
the authority to achieve its plans to develop the Angkor areas."
He said APSARA could do its job well, if it respected the competence of member ministries.
Minister of Culture Nouth Narang, who is the only ministry representative on APSARA's
14-member board, said: "I am not so happy over the decision because I think
I can and should still be able to develop the Angkor areas.
"It will be meaningless for the Ministry of Culture if the ministry was completely
stopped from working on it."
Moulyvann did not want to respond, saying: "I think there is no need to think
about feelings and impressions which are not objective."
He said Narang remained a member of APSARA, which had to be an independent, efficient
body capable of collaborating with experts in various ministries.
A Royal decree signed in February established APSARA, as well as a Supreme Council
of National Culture.
Both organizations have the same boards, with the Prime Ministers as their co-presidents
and Moulyvann its vice-president.
The other members are the Ministers of Culture, Tourism, Public Workers, Finance,
Environment, Planning and Foreign Affairs, along with the Siem Reap governor, the
General-Secretary of the Cambodian Development Council and a representative of the
Council of Ministers.
The Ministry of Culture would serve as the secretariat to the Supreme Council of
National Culture, but APSARA would have its own staff, according to Moulyvann.
Separate agencies for tourism development, urban planning, conservation, and others,
would be established under APSARA.
The new authority's first board meeting on October 9 would elect an executive director
and finalize its staffing and budget.
Moulyvan said French funding of $1.4 million had been secured to start up APSARA.
It would raise further money from selling plots of land for hotel developments, taxes
on hotels, tour operators and tourist fees.
When Siem Reap achieved 1 million tourist visitors a year, and development plans
were well underway, Moulyvann estimated APSARA would be have potential funding of
$30m-50m a year.