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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - RT 4 contract sparks anger

RT 4 contract sparks anger

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.

Mobilization

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

shown.

"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

building experience."

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

abundance.

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."

Fishbach representative

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.

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