Myanmar might have its mysterious new government capital, Naypidaw, which sprang from nothingness about 400 kilometres north of Yangon in 2005, but now Siem Reap has its brand spanking new Administrative City, which has miraculously mushroomed from the flat plains about 20 kilometres out of town on the road to Phnom Penh.
But whereas Myanmar’s vast army of government officials and civil servants had to be ordered to move to Naypidaw, the movement of Siem Reap’s bureaucracies and servants of the people has been more orderly with only a few grumbles about the relatively short commuting distance involved.
In November of 2005, the Myanmar government simply gave recalcitrant civil servants their marching orders, instructing on a Friday that hundreds of them were ordered to move to homes and offices in the new city, and to be there by the following Monday.
Business people returning to Siem Reap in the past few months were also perplexed to find that many downtown government departments were abandoned or already razed, especially in prime riverside locales.
Gone too were the workers, some of whom have been doing the daily commute to the edge of town since the Administrative City opened for business in January.
Liv San, a radio reporter for 25 years who represents several radio networks, including the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), has been working at the Department of Information’s new headquarters in Administrative City for almost three months, and apart from a casual grumble about the distance he has to now commute, he says he’s happy.
“Work is work,” he says, and it really only takes him just over 20 minutes by moto to travel the 19 kilometres from his home to his office.
Last Thursday Liv San was doubly busy as the Department of Information played host to Cambodian and Vietnamese dignitaries.
A convoy of black government vehicles sped through the empty streets of the city and parked outside the Department of Information. Hundreds of schoolkids arrived on pushbikes and dozens of influential Khmers arrived by the car load for the inauguration of the Nokor Phnom National Radio station. One of eight national radio stations in Cambodia, Nokor Phnom will broadcast in Khmer, French, English and Vietnamese.
Among the dignitaries that attended the inauguration were Information Minister Khieu Kanharith and a delegation from the Radio Voice of Vietnam (VOV) led by its general director Mr Vu Van Hien. He handed over equipment and a radio transmitter to National Radio Kampuchea.
A huge sign above the highway to Phnom Penh directs traffic to the 4.2-kilometre new road that leads to the new city, which has a carefully planned layout.
Neat serried rows of dinky little modern buildings are occupied by 25 major provincial government departments. The most imposing building in the city is the Siem Reap Provincial Hall, already a busy hub of activity.
The planning and design of the buildings was supervised by Mam Sophana, the Under-Secretary of State Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction.
The city will eventually be occupied by more than 1000 government employees, with housing tracts planned nearby for families. But at the moment it’s a treeless barren tract, devoid of any personality and underpopulated to the degree that some areas have the air of a ghost town.
This will change, assures Cheuk Kimjon, director of the Administrative Directorate, Provincial Hall.
He told 7Days that because construction of some department buildings is not finished, amenities such as restaurants and food halls have not yet appeared. But construction will start soon on a large restaurant at Provincial Hall, and other departments will also introduce amenities.
The new city harbours only a few straggly trees, but this too will change shortly, assures Provincial Governor Sou Phirin.