The government will next year take full control of ticketing at the Angkor Wat Archeological Park, 17 years after the contract was outsourced to the politically connected Sokimex group, an arrangement long plagued by accusations of irregularities.
Prime Minister Hun Sen announced the end of the conglomerate’s tenure at the world heritage site at a cabinet meeting yesterday morning, revealing an inter-ministerial body would replace the company, owned by tycoon Sok Kong.
Denying that alleged corruption was a factor in the decision, government spokesman Phay Siphan said, because the company’s latest five-year contract finished next year, it was simply time for the government to take over and boost state revenue collected from the park.
“When the business started, the government needed a partner. At that time the government had no ability to invest in that sector, so we looked to the private sector,” Siphan said.
“Now the government sees this business is stable, the number of tourists has increased and, instead of partnering with the private sector, the government prefers to do it on our own to maximise the income for the state.”
According to figures from the Apsara Authority this week, which manages the ancient temple complex, foreign visitors in the first 10 months of this year increased 2 per cent to 1.67 million, while revenue for the period rose 0.6 per cent to $47,681,080.
For October, 153,308 foreign visitors (up 2 per cent) brought in some $4.3 million, a 4.5 per cent increase on October 2014.
Since 1999, Sokimex, through its hospitality arm Sokha Hotels and Resorts, which runs hotels in Siem Reap, Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh, has sold tickets under a profit-share system with Apsara, led by Deputy Prime Minister Sok An.
Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker Son Chhay, who has personally investigated the deal, claims that, under the arrangement, Apsara has under-reported visitors and revenue, with large amounts of cash unaccounted for.
Yesterday, Chhay welcomed the decision, saying he hoped it would herald increased transparency in the management of Cambodia’s biggest tourism draw card.
“It is a good thing. I hope that this changing hands will benefit the country,” Chhay said.
Tycoon Sok Kong was unable to be reached for comment yesterday.
The company’s chief legal and corporate affairs officer, Svay Vuthy, declined to comment.
According to government spokesman Siphan, a “public institution”, co-managed by the Ministry of Tourism and Ministry of Finance and Economics, will be set up to take over ticketing in January.
Apsara Authority spokesman Long Kosal said the decision had been considered for some time and was based “on public opinion and the law”.
Siphan said Apsara would remain in charge of preservation and conservation at the Angkor park and the exact functions to be handled by the new body would be decided in due course.
He said staffing arrangements would not change.