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Market repairs nearing completion

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Shops in the middle of Central Market yesterday. Renovations are expected to wrap up by next month, with a price tag of US$6.5 million. Photo by: SOVAN PHILONG

Shops in the middle of Central Market yesterday. Renovations are expected to wrap up by next month, with a price tag of US$6.5 million. Photo by: SOVAN PHILONG

RENOVATIONS at Phnom Penh’s shopping hub of Central Market are nearing completion after spanning more than two years and US$6.5 million, officials said yesterday.

But vendors had mixed reaction to the work. Some praised the improvements, while others complained costs for running stalls – including unofficial fees – were on the increase.

The renovation work was conducted as a partnership between Phnom Penh Municipality and Agence Française de Développement, which granted the money, and started in January 2009, said AFD Project Officer Alexia Hoffman.

Central Market, also known as Psah Thmei, has since received, among other improvements, a new drainage system and water supply points, covered areas for vendors outside the main building, an improved layout for vendors’ stalls and an overall facelift, she said.

The only remaining work involved the surrounding pavements and street, with Phnom Penh Municipality footing the bill for the latter road improvements, she said. She said she expected that work to be completed by May 15, in time for an inauguration ceremony at the end of that month.

Speaking to the importance of the renovations, beyond just the building’s structural problems, Hoffman said Central Market had become a symbol of Phnom Penh and therefore the preservation was necessary.

“It was a really big project when it was created, and it is still very important in Cambodian life,” she said.

Vendors’ reactions to renovations were mixed.

Son Sovany, 42, has sold jewellery in the very centre of Central Market for 15 years. She said she likes the smaller changes she sees, such as the fresh paint job and newly provided fans at each counter.

“It’s more beautiful than before,” she said.

However, her outlook differed from that of vendors working outside the main building.

Vendors in these areas mainly praised the new stone overhangs that protect them from the sun and rain, something the cloth umbrellas they used before couldn’t do as well.

“Before the roof leaked and I had to cover my goods with plastic bags when it rained,” said, Mech Nika, 45, who sells men’s suits.

“I don’t care about the rain now,” she said.

Others noted that their stalls had become smaller after the renovations or that the new layout had slowed traffic to their area. Still others complained that despite certain costs declining, such as electricity, the overall expense of running a business at Central Market had increased.

Neak Sokly, 40, has seen the fees for everything from water to cleaning to security, even to use the toilet facilities, go up.

“Since they built the new structure, the prices increase,” she said, standing by her crabs, prawn and squid.

“New things always come with new prices,” she said.

Hoffman noted that a condition of the FDA’s grant was more transparency in the administration of the market, including more budget reporting. But one vendor this week admitted that he paid unofficial fees well beyond the official cost of rent for a stall in Central Market.

When asked about this, Hoffman said that “maybe we should have done a follow-up on the management” of the market once the work was done.

An official from the Central Market said he could not comment because the renovations were not yet complete.

Muy Yong Sony, deputy governor of Daun Penh district, declined to comment yesterday when contacted. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MAY KUNMAKARA

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