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Business leaders want reduction in hidden costs, fees

Senior business leaders called for substantial cuts in transport costs and a greater

government effort to crack down on "hidden" charges at a meeting between

government, port officials and the heads of seven private sector working groups.

The ad hoc meeting on August 13 followed demands by Prime Minister Hun Sen at the

Private Sector Forum the previous week that costs, whether legal such as port fees,

or illegal, such as bribes, be curbed.

"This situation on the collection of high and illegal charges cannot be allowed

to continue," Hun Sen told the forum.

"I have taken a personal interest in this matter and have given strict instructions

to the heads of all the concerned authorities ... to take immediate action to wipe

out such illegal practices."

Despite such pledges, manufacturers at the August 13 meeting still expressed their

concerns over illegal charges and high transport costs. They quoted as one example

the proposed $18 toll to shift a single 40-foot container between Sihanoukville and

Phnom Penh.

One observer who attended the talks the following week said "the good news is

the government moved really quickly to set up the meeting". However, there were

no promises of reductions in tolls or in the high fees paid for X-ray scanning of

containers in ports, which was another complaint of industry.

"We still don't know how rates for charges are justified and there were no promises

to reduce them," the observer noted.

Business leaders at the Private Sector Forum said high costs were hurting Cambodia's

international competitiveness.

The chairman of the Garment Manufacturers' Association of Cambodia, Van Sou Ieng,

said factories paid $800 to bring a 40-foot container from Sihanoukville to Phnom

Penh, half of which was "hidden" costs. In Vietnam it cost around a quarter

that amount.

Sou Ieng, who also attended the second meeting, told the Post there was "a lot

of exchange of comments and ideas, but I'm personally not feeling so optimistic.

There were no concrete measures to encourage me to be positive."

He said another meeting should take place quickly because toll fees would be implemented

soon.

"I want to see a substantial adjustment in prices," he said.

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