Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Special Investment Program Launched in Sihanoukville, Shooting Ranges Ordered Shut

Prime Minister Hun Manet announces a special program to boost investment in Preah Sihanouk province, January 31, 2024. (Hun Manet’s Facebook)
Prime Minister Hun Manet announces a special program to boost investment in Preah Sihanouk province, January 31, 2024. (Hun Manet’s Facebook)

Prime Minister Hun Manet on Wednesday launched a three-part special program with investment benefits to resolve the stalled constructions in Preah Sihanouk, as well as attract investors and boost the economy after years of deadlock. The program is in line with plans to turn the province into a multi-purpose special economic zone.

Speaking at the launch of the special program, Hun Manet also instructed provincial governor Kouch Chamroeun to close down civilian shooting ranges in Sihanoukville to enhance security. 

“I discussed with the provincial governor​ regarding the number of civilian shooting ranges. There are two, which are open to civilians including the military base […] now I am saying that tourists who come to Sihanoukville do not have to learn to shoot. It is better to just visit the island. So, please close them and we don’t have to open new ones,” he announced.

The army base, which has a shooting range, would no longer allow civilians to learn shooting, Hun Manet said, adding that it is better to let the soldiers learn how to shoot instead.

“I propose a draft directive for the whole country to stop issuing permits to open new shooting sites because it is not necessary,” he said. Existing shooting ranges need to be updated to be in compliance with regulations.

According to him, a BBC documentary as well as publications by international media on the scam operation and human trafficking in Sihanoukville over the years did not reflect the reality on the ground but it impacted Cambodia’s image, especially the province.

Following that, the US and Canada announced a raft of sanctions against Cambodian individuals and entities.

Hun Manet said it did not mean that there are no security problems in Cambodia, because there are, but what was shown on television did not correspond with the real situation.

“Cambodia is a country with security. I am not saying which country but some developed countries [have security problems too] […] they have more thieves than in Phnom Penh,” he said.

He urged security forces in Preah Sihanouk to “take extra measures” to maintain public order and to crack down on criminal activities so that investments, industries and tourists would flow into the province.

Provincial spokesperson Long Dimanche declined to elaborate on the closure of the civilian and military-operated shooting ranges.

“There are two private shooting ranges but I can’t talk about the one in the military because theirs is related to national security,” he said.

Ream Naval Base commander My Dina declined to comment.

Meanwhile, the special program to increase investment and business projects would begin this year. They are related to the unfinished buildings and other areas, as well as the expansion of existing investment projects in the province.

The unfinished buildings were abandoned after foreign investors, mostly Chinese nationals, left Cambodia in the wake of the ban on online gambling, and worsened during the pandemic.

New investors of the unfinished buildings would enjoy exemptions of income tax, prepayment of income tax and minimum tax for an additional three years for qualified investment projects and tax-registered small and medium enterprises (SME).

A construction site in Sihanoukville province, has been left unfinished for nearly two years. Many Chinese investors left town due to COVID-19. Picture taken August 23, 2022. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang
An unfinished construction in Sihanoukville province that has been abandoned for years. Many Chinese investors left town due to COVID-19. Picture taken August 23, 2022. (CamboJA/ Pring Samrang)

Zero value-added tax for enterprises that supply local goods and services to stalled projects in Sihanoukville to complete the construction or renovate the buildings have been offered. Other benefits include a five-year withholding tax exemption, property tax exemption and penalty exemption (2016 to 2025). To encourage investment, the government is also promoting out-of-court settlement mechanisms in accordance with legal provisions for investment-related disputes.

“Sihanoukville is an important multi-sectoral economic province and plays a very important role in supporting other provinces,” Hun Manet asserted.

Currently, there are 362 buildings that have been suspended from construction, requiring an additional investment of approximately $1.16 billion to complete the construction, said Minister of Economy and Finance Aun Pornmoniroth.

Another 176 buildings have been completed but not in operation yet, AKP wrote, quoting Pornmoniroth on Wednesday.

In welcoming the government policy to attract investors, political analyst Em Sovannara said the state needs to first strengthen the judicial system and build trust among foreign investors.

“The investment does not only depend on encouragement but is also based on legal principles and a justice system that can be trusted by foreign investors,” he said.

He pointed out that Cambodia does not have a commercial court, which would otherwise attract foreign investors, particularly as the country has been criticized for money laundering and illegal online scams.

“These challenges [must be addressed] to build trust, ensure security of investment and not be a risk to investors. If our justice system is still weak, we cannot build trust among foreign investors,” Sovannara said.

Chan Sophal, director of the Center for Policy Studies, said Sihanoukville already has infrastructures in the private and public sectors, therefore the additional settlement is more effective. 

“The solutions to boost economic, investments and tourism are on point because we already have a lot of resources there,” he said.