USAID has awarded a $24 million contract to renovate Route 4 to US contractors
Fishbach International as construction contractors and Louis Berger
International as construction supervisors. But the decision has caused
controversy after the US companies subcontracted out 75 percent of the work to
Thai companies, leaving Cambodian involvement at a minimum. USAID's choice of
contractors has also come under fire for Fishbach's complete lack of experience
in road building.
Route 4, which runs between Phnom Penh and
Sihanoukville, was originally constructed by USAID in the 1950's. It is to be
reconstructed to the original specifications. The road is approximately 211 km
long with 39 bridges. Nine of these are to be reconstructed with the remaining
30 to be repaired.
Fishbach is understood to have subcontracted most of
the work to Ital Thai, one of Thailand's leading construction companies, who in
turn have subcontracted it out to a smaller company based in Surin province in
northeastern Thailand. Fishbach and Ital Thai have previously worked together on
the construction of the new US Embassy building in Bangkok.
of the contract has already begun with USAID releasing initial funds.
Construction is expected to begin in mid-September and is expected to be
completed by May 1996. The project will be coordinated with the Ministry of
Public Works and Transport.
One Cambodian construction executive involved
in the bidding, who declined to be named, criticized the decision for excluding
Khmer companies and labor.
He said "We have spent so much time, money
and effort to pursue this contract. Don't just give us a road, teach us how to
make it right. We need training, we could have done it with American help. We
even prepared the tender ourselves. We have our own ideas we just need to be
"One of the final six bidders that approached us in July last
year said their price was the lowest from the beginning but a lot of contractors
did not pay any attention because everyone knew that Fishbach had no road
The source added that his company spent tens of
thousands of dollars it could ill afford pursuing the contract.
Companies involved in the contract will face more than construction
problems while rebuilding Route 4. Both sides of the road and the bridges are
heavily mined and unexploded military ordinance is also in
This year has seen a large increase in Khmer Rouge activity
around Route 4. Several vehicle convoys have been attacked with seven vehicles
destroyed in one attack earlier this year.
The road is a vital link for
Phnom Penh with the outside world with two thirds of all goods imported by ship
coming through Sihanoukville in the first six months of this year. According to
figures supplied by the Kampuchea Shipping Agency and Brokers this amounted to
403,000 tonnes and 1,740 containers.
Richard Lane of Phoenix Import and
Export said he was pleased that the contract had been decided, adding: "It would
be tragic if it was delayed for another year."
granted the Post an interview but then withdrew, saying he was unable to speak
to us without the permission of USAID.
A US Embassy official said that
USAID's representative here would have to seek permision from Washington to
speak to the press.