Tuesday, January 06, 2009
A slot-machine parlour in Phnom Penh. The government is in the midst of a crackdown on illegally licensed slot-machine establishments. (Photo by: HOR HAB)
Official suspended over slots
Tuesday, 06 January 2009
Written by Nguon Sovan and Chhay Channyda
The Phnom Penh Post
The head of the Phnom Penh tourism authority has been suspended for his role in illegally licensing slot-machine parlours, minister says
PHNOM Penh's tourism director was suspended last Tuesday for his role in a hotel licensing scam that helped dubious establishments use a legal loophole and illegally operate slot machines, according to Cambodia's minister of tourism.
"I suspended Chen Saman, the director of the Phnom Penh tourism department, on December 30 for his involvement in issuing licences for six nominal hotels without practical inspections," Minister of Tourism Thong Khon told the Post on Sunday.
"[Chen Saman] was careless in his duties because he failed to have these venues properly inspected before licensing them as hotels," said Thong Khon. He said some of the places that received licenses were actually restaurants with only one or two rooms, but Chen Saman's office nonetheless designated them as hotels.
Following a December 5 government directive, the Ministry of Finance can only issue licences to operate slot machines legally inside hotels. Individual slot-machine owners may rent space at hotels if they want to continue to run their business.
Thong Khon acknowledged that some places applied for hotel licences just so they could operate slot machines.
"The problem is that our officials conspire with the operators in issuing licences improperly," he said. "From now on, we will thoroughly inspect the hotels before issuing their licences."
"...our officials conspire with the operators in issuing licences improperly."
Opposition lawmaker Yim Sovann said on Sunday that since the directive was issued, many slot-machine operators have relabeled their venues as hotels, even though they do not offer accommodation.
"The suspension of Chen Saman is not enough," he said. "I believe there are many officials involved in this process, as corruption is a fact of life in Cambodia."
He said he did not think the December 5 directive was effective because inspectors sent by the ministry would take bribes from slot-machine operators and turn a blind eye on the issue. He criticised the government for allowing any slot machines, saying that the revenue did not benefit government coffers but was shared by operators and corrupt officials.
Chen Saman could not be reached for comment on Sunday.
On December 19, Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered all relevant authorities to shut down 12 slot-machine operators in Phnom Penh, two in Sihanoukville and one in Kandal province, all of which operated without licences.
Em Sam An, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior, said Sunday that he could not provide figures on how many slot machines have been shut down so far, but said that the specific venues named by the prime minister were shut down immediately.
He said the government had to continue its drive to identify slot machines operating without licences and fake hotels.
"I urge the Tourism and Finance ministries to investigate before issuing licences for hotels and slot machines."