The Interior Ministry is continuing plans to scrap a pay-to-stay prison for wealthy inmates as it negotiates with the company that built it, noting that it is preparing to ask permission from Prime Minister Hun Sen to cancel the project.
The facility was built at a cost of $4 million by Malaysian company Kunn Rekon Holdings, which was given a 45-year contract to run it along with the government. Construction began in May 2017.
General Khieu Sopheak, Interior Ministry spokesman, yesterday said ministry officials are working with relevant parties who have invested in the building of the prison.
“We will repay the money back to the company following agreements between the two parties,” Gen Sopheak said. “We will not make investors lose their capital.”
Gen Sopheak said the ministry will send a letter to Mr Hun Sen to ask for his permission to officially cancel the pay-to-stay prison.
“It was just an internal decision made by the Interior Ministry, it has not yet been officially announced,” he said. “We will write a letter to the head of the Royal Government for him to make a decision on the cancellation of the pay-to-stay prison.”
“We have abandoned the project because there are no such prisons in our region and that it’s not stipulated by our constitution to segregate or discriminate,” Gen Sopheak added.
Representatives of Kunn Rekon Holdings could not be reached for comment yesterday.
According to a statement by the Interior Ministry on Monday, cancelling the plan will need final approval of Mr Hun Sen.
“Every decision related to construction projects will need to wait for a decision by the head of the Cambodian Royal Government,” it said. “It is in order to guarantee continuity and effective prison management in the future.”
Gen Sopheak said the current plan for the newly-built prison include placing pre-trial detainees in it in order to reduce the burden in other prisons.
“We are considering using the new building for detaining those suspected of crimes in order to reduce overcrowding at Prey Sar prison,” he said.
Lieutenant General Nuth Savna, spokesman for the General Department of Prisons, previously said inmates from PJ prison will also be held in the new prison.
“It is no longer a pay-to-stay facility and [we] will move PJ prison inmates to the new correctional centre,” he said.
Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodia Centre for Human Rights, said in an email that she supports the cancellation of the “VIP prison” project.
“[It’s because] it promotes inconsistency of treatment between more wealthy and poorer prisoners, and unequal application of justice,” Ms Sopheap said. “Prison reform in general must not be abandoned. It is imperative to address overcrowding in Cambodian prison facilities.”
“However, it must be implemented in a way that centres on fair trial rights, utilising judicial supervision over pre-trial detention and improve facilities in accordance with the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners,” she added.
Am Sam Ath, monitoring manager with the rights group Licadho, said the government made the correct decision in proceeding with the cancellation.
“There will be serious criticism about discrimination if they do not cancel the VIP prison,” Mr Sam Ath said. “It’s because the rich can afford a healthy place, but the poor cannot, while they both committed crimes all the same.”
He also supports using the new prison to house pre-trial inmates.
“It is a good idea to detain prisoners and the accused separately,” Mr Sam Ath said.