Vendors in Kampong Speu’s Chbar Mon town yesterday became the latest beneficiaries of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s tour of the provinces as the premier declared the contract for an already-constructed but long-opposed bus terminal null and void.
The new bus terminal, twice the size of the old facility, was built by Chhoun Kim San Import Export in 2012. However, it was never used because vendors refused to move the 400 metres to the new terminal as it is closer to the town’s market, and they feared their clients would shop there instead.
The prime minister’s decision by fiat, announced on his Facebook page after a meeting with provincial officials, put an end to the matter, though left plans for the building, constructed with public funds, yet to be determined.
“The old bus station will be kept the way it is for vendors to continue selling there,” Hun Sen wrote on Facebook. “At the same time, the provincial governor needs to discuss with the company to find a compromise solution.”
The decision marks a victory for the vendors, who last month petitioned the Ministry of Urban Planning to reconsider the plan to open the new station.
Provincial Governor Vei Samnang said yesterday that while the new terminal was “beautiful”, he was pleased Hun Sen had made the decision to keep the people happy.
“If we remove the people from there, they will be angry with us; so I am fine with it,” he said, adding that Hun Sen had ordered that national funds be used to compensate the company so as not to burden the province.
For his part, Chhoun Kim San said he was disappointed the new terminal had been shelved.
“I made the investment for five or six years, but now it is cancelled,” he said. “I don’t have any further opinion about that.”
Kim San said the governor had previously offered him a contract to collect fees from vendors at the old bus station by way of compensation.
However, the vendors did not pay him.
“For the compensation, I cannot say how much; let the government decide how much I have lost,” he said, adding that he had also paid a $100,000 deposit to the Ministry of Commerce when awarded the project.
The move exhibited shades of a January decision by the premier to abruptly scrap a private company’s contract for collecting tolls on National Road 4, a move popular with drivers, but which left the concessionaire in need of a solution.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan yesterday said that the bus station decision was taken keeping in mind the wishes of the people.
“We understand at the end of the day taxpayers’ money has to be used, but what we prefer is to make the people happy,” he said. “[This project] is a lesson learned.”
Hun Sen’s decision was emblematic of how the government is running the country, said Son Chhay, the chief whip of the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party.
“People at the provincial level are incapable and should have tackled this at the provincial level,” he said, adding that sub-national officials were appointed by Hun Sen and the ruling party but often lacked the competency to take decisions that would benefit citizens.
Ou Virak, the founder of the Future Forum think tank, said the decision came as little surprise. Despite the fact that national elections are still two years off, he said, the ruling party has been nervous since the close-run result in 2013.
“[Hun Sen] will go for two or three days to the province and take these decisions, but it will not do much,” he predicted.