With the global economic crisis threatening to curtail private development, Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema says the new year will pose fresh challenges as officials struggle to house a growing population while keeping other development projects on schedule. Still, he insists the so-called Master Plan of Phnom Penh, scheduled for completion by 2020, will ultimately yield solutions to problems ranging from flooding to traffic congestion. New infrastructure projects and satellite cities are key components of Kep Chuktema's overall vision. But the cooperation of ordinary citizens - in cleaning up rubbish and embracing public transportation, for example - will also be necessary if the goals of the plan are to be met.
The governor of Phnom Penh, Kep Chuktema, speaks to the Post in his office at the Phnom Penh Municipality.
What are the municipality's development plans for 2009?
If we talk about urbanisation, it is necessary to have a clear rule from the authorised authorities. We acknowledge there is anarchy is housing development due to the carelessness of local authorities. I want the government to centralise authority for this so it can be practised more carefully. The development of Phnom Penh is for the benefit of the whole country, and we want to show that Phnom Penh is the key engine of national economic growth.
The main challenge for us is to develop infrastructure. First, we will continue to pave all-tar roads in Tuol Kork district. Second, we hope this year to refurbish three parks to create more green space - one in front of the Council for the Development of Cambodia, one at the Royal University of Phnom Penh and one at Pochentong Market. Third, we will complete the new Preah Monivong Bridge, as well as the new diverted road at the west side of the bridge to alleviate traffic congestion. We will build more roads in important neighbourhoods, especially Kob Srov Road in the northern part of the city, which will connect with a new bridge built by a private developer. And lastly, we will continue to oversee private development projects such as Camko City and Sokimex.
How much does the municipality spend on these development projects and where does the money come from? In total, Phnom Penh needs at least US$25 million for development spending each year. We get the money from tax collection in the city.
How does the city plan to deal with flooding and traffic congestion?
The main causes of flooding are heavy rain and deviations from the master plan. We will continue to dig more canals and, if possible, to install more drainage machines to reduce water from the northern part to Boeung Kob Srov. If we don't install drainage machines, the northern areas will continue to experience flooding. We will try our best to avoid serious flooding next year.
WE ACKNOWLEDGE THERE IS ANARCHY IN HOUSING DEVELOPMENT DUE TO THE CARELESS OF LOCAL AUTHORITIES.
With regard to traffic congestion, we are currently consulting with Japan and France to find the best solutions. First, we have agreed to build a train to carry passengers from the outskirts of the city to the city centre. This will facilitate the transportation of workers and students who live in the suburbs, but work and study in the city. We will study this in more detail in light of funding from Japan [for this project].
Second, we plan to contract with a private bus company because the city does not have public transportation, and this is the biggest problem. If everyone uses private transportation, we will never alleviate traffic congestion. Also, we will encourage companies to increase the number of taxis they provide to reduce private cars.
How much do you expect the city's population will increase?
Based on official statistics, Phnom Penh has 1.3 million people, but in reality it has almost two million. It is the hub of trade, so many people visit on a temporary basis for business opportunities. The population increases by 3.5 percent each year when you take into account new births and new arrivals.
What is the municipality's policy regarding the rising number of city dwellers?
We realise that everyone needs Phnom Penh, especially those who come for business opportunities. We will strengthen our efforts to record the new residents and visitors we receive. New city dwellers create a heavy burden for city authorities, so we want the government to continue developing every part of the country - such as in the provinces and along the borders - so people won't necessarily need to come to the city for job opportunities and good services.
How many houses are needed to accommodate new city dwellers?
We need about 10,000 apartments each year, but we are not able to produce that amount. The private sector contributes between 3,000 and 5,000 apartments each year, but this contribution may shrink as a result of the global economic crisis.
This is a big problem for the city because we are unable to fill the gap, particularly when it comes to housing for the poor. We currently receive some funds from Prime Minister Hun Sen and from NGOs, and we depend heavily on private companies.
Do you have any expansion plans for the city?
We have suggested to the government that the city should expand to twice its current size, and we have already received government approval for this. The government will allow us to expand to 738 square kilometres from the current size of 375 square kilometres. With this expansion, we will absorb 27 communes that are currently part of Kandal province. The Ministry of Interior is responsible for this.
How do satellite cities figure in the municipality's plan to deal with population growth? We have seven satellite city development projects, but only four are progressing: Camko City, Koh Pich, Grand Phnom Penh International City and Boeung Snou. We are processing legal documents for two other projects, and there has been no progress on the seventh. We expect that satellite cities can house about 60,000 middle-class families.
Is it possible to develop Boeung Kak as a satellite city?
I think it is possible because we are pumping out water every day. Meanwhile, we are urging the construction company that is building the apartments to exchange with people to move forward faster. I believe we should develop Boeung Kak. If we keep Boeung Kak in its present condition, it will become even more difficult to control and will cause many problems related to the environment, population management, drugs and gambling. All development projects have some side effects. We are demanding the company shows its master plan for Boeung Kak so we are able to talk with people there.
What is your response to allegations that the municipality is blindly developing the city? We welcome all opinions, but I want to clarify that we are not blindly developing the city because we have a master plan in place, as well as a clear medium-term development plan for the period between 2005 and 2015. The main challenge for us today is the lack of human resources and funding to implement the plan.
For example, the Japanese flood management system project at the riverside costs $19 million and will take three years to complete.
When do you think Phnom Penh can become a beautiful city?
We are already implementing our 2005-15 plan. To speed the process, we need to have laws, and people must respect the laws.
For example, how can we deal with rubbish and flooding if there is no effort on the part of the people to eliminate these problems?