A floating dredge designed and built in Phnom Penh by Mong Reththy engineers: It operates at Keo Pos port, keeping channels and births free of sand buildup. The dredge is towed but has a 550-horsepower engine to drive its digging head and pumps which remove sand by floating pipeline. The 30-meter-long dredge cost $80,000 to build locally - the alternative to a $1 million import.
Mong Reththy, one of Cambodia's richest individuals, is a self-made man who says
he has never bought favors, not even his Okhna title.
He exports rubber, palm oil, livestock, builds roads and buildings, and he is now
operating his own port, built for $10 million cash.
But he is haunted by a shadow hanging over him from the past: in April 1997 one of
his containers was opened at Sihanoukville port and, packed inside an export shipment
of rubber, was seven tons of seeded, compressed, shrink-wrapped marijuana.
Reththy at the time denied all knowledge of the weed, saying he sold the rubber for
cash to another party for shipment to Sri Lanka and the concealed cargo had been
added without his knowledge.
Nobody was ever arrested, despite what appeared to be intensive police interest.
The cargo owner could not be traced as the shipping documents had been falsified.
Put Reththy's name into an internet search and it will find statements saying that
he was linked to a major drugs bust. That's all it says.
Reththy, in the first in-depth media interview he has given, told the Post: "I
was accused of planting and smuggling marijuana. I have tried to ignore it. I have
never even smoked a cigarette in my life, so how could I do business like that?
"I only do what is legal. I became an Okhna legally as well, I did not buy my
This title was awarded by the Prime Minister Hun Sen and they are long-standing friends.
Reththy was the fifth child of 12 siblings, five of whom died under Pol Pot.
"I lived as a monk at Takeo for six years from the age of 16 because my parents
were poor. I came from Takeo to Phnom Penh in 1979 and stayed at Wat Neakavan. I
worked at the Ministry of Public Affairs, department of traffic signs, from 1979
Reththy, now 50, was married to Man Son (now 48) along with 12 other couples during
the Pol Pot regime. They have three sons, two daughters, and four grandchildren.
After the government job he embarked on a course to work hard, save money and start
his own business. He was a porter at the Phnom Penh Port for more than a year, shoulder-toting
heavy sacks of rice and cement off and on ships. When the port was idle, he worked
on building construction sites.
"I realized that the port was a good business. I wanted to establish my own
port since that time. But I could only think about it because I did not have money.
"When I had saved $1,000 I started the Mong Reththy Import-Export Company, in
about 1989. I exported rubber, corn, beans and sesame. After that I imported cars,
cement, steel and construction equipment."
When he was establishing his oil palm plantation on state economic concession land
on National Road 4 in 1997, he went to visit Keo Pos village, "where I heard
from people that there is the sea, 15 kilometers away. At that time I walked because
it was an area controlled by the Khmer Rouge and you could not drive a car in."
Keo Pos is about 76 kilometers by road north of Sihanoukville and 179 kilometers
southwest of Phnom Penh. It is also one toll station closer to the city.
"I thought that it was a good place to establish a small port to export crops
to compete with other countries when the country became peaceful.
"I was looking forward to it for a long time," Reththy said.
"After Prime Minister Hun Sen announced the government's 'open skies policy'
to encourage importing and exporting, I got approval from the Cambodian Development
Council (CDC) to build a port. I did not pay bribes, I never have.
"I started building the port in late 2003 and it officially began operating
on August 1, 2004. The wharf is 309 metres long and 22 metres wide. I also built
the road 15 kilometers long and 15 meters wide. I spent more than $10 million, including
the wharf, 60 hectares of land, and road.
"Compared to the Kampong Som port, mine is just a small one. I bought all the
material and equipment directly without doing much planning. I used my money to build
the port without joining with other businessmen or the government. I did not borrow
money; I have always paid cash.
"I would like Cambodia to have a private port to serve the customer properly."
Reththy said Cambodia has other small private ports in Kampot, Sre Ambel and Stung
Haov, but these were not active commercial operations.
Three months ago he started building a new 200 meter wharf, 63 meters wide, extending
out into water about eight meters deep, which will allow larger draft ships to berth;
the depth at the first wharf is 6 meters.
"It will cost about US $10 million to build the new wharf and at least five
years to recover the cost. The first wharf has officially operated for three months
and it needs six months promotion to attract customers. My port is capable of handling
cement, 2,000 tons per day. We charge $1.20 per ton for the loading and lifting service.
So far we have had 100 ships in and they earned about $100,000 for the company.
"The government gets tariff income from my port every month, and I also have
to provide facilities for the police, Camcontrol and Customs.
"They just sit in the office and collect the tariffs, I don't know how much.
I get my revenue from service only.
"I expect that there will be a lot of ships come into my port when the new wharf
is finished. I want all these ships to be unloading cargo here and transporting crop
Mong Reththy and his wife, Man Son.
Reththy says he is strongly in favour of competition. "The more ports we have,
the better off we are. If there is only one port, a high price is demanded for the
service cost. For example, in the case of having only one port, a customer exports
one ton of corn for a profit about $10; but he has to spend $5 for port service.
Thus, will the customer export the corn?
"If there are many ports, he can find one that is cheaper.
"It's like going out to eat. Two places have delicious noodles, the same as
each other; but one place costs 1,500 riel and the other costs 1,000 riel. For me,
I go to eat at the place that costs 1,000 riel even if the other one is my relative's
While he is developing his port, Reththy is also setting up a refinery at his palm
oil factory, which he hopes to have in operation by 2006.
"I started exporting palm oil in 2002. So far, I have sold about 5,000 tons
of oil to Malaysia to refine as palm oil products, which we then import to Cambodia.
We have only crude palm oil, we do not have the refinery because of uylot [colliqual
for ot luy, or 'no money']." He also exports 10 percent of his production to
"It costs $100 per ton for a round trip of palm oil to Malaysia and I have to
pay another $30 to have one ton of crude refined into palm oil products. If we have
our own refinery we will get profit of $100 per ton.
"We have planted 578,934 oil palm trees since 1997 on 4,000 hectares of land,
and plan to plant another 255,600 palms in 2005 on 1,800 hectares of land. We have
land in total of 11,000 hectares. The tree takes four years to mature to harvest
the fruit for processing."
Today he is exporting cows, buffalos and palm oil. In the future, he plans to export
processed corn and bean products.
"I export from 10,000 to 15,000 cows and buffalos a year to Malaysia; it's up
to the buyer to decide whether they are for slaughter, fattening or breeding. No
matter how many cows we have, Malaysia could buy them all. It is driven by demand,
not costs or shipping distance.
"This is the first time that Cambodia has been able to export animals. In the
past, other countries were afraid to buy from us because of the disease risks. I
now have a safe place to feed cows and buffalos in Sihanoukville. I am feeding 3,000
cows and buffalo in that place.
"Malaysia imports buffalos from India, 500,000 head a year, and hundreds of
thousand of goats, sheep and cows from Australia.
"I feel sorry that we do not have enough cows to export to Malaysia. The orders
average 100,000 head per year.
"Cambodian farmers are now trying to feed cow and buffalo, but most of them
still do not have enough money to get started. People depend on rice farming, but
that needs flooded paddies, and if there is a drought they are very vulnerable. If
they feed cows and buffalos as well as grow rice, they do not have to worry about
flood or drought. They just wait and sell their cows or buffalos.
"This year the price of cows and buffalos is higher than previous years. Cows
sell from $0.80 to $1.10 per kilogram liveweight and buffalos from $0.70 to $1 per
His livestock buyers purchase cows and buffalos from people in Kampong Chhnang, Pursat,
Battambang, Banteay Mean Chey, Mondulkiri, Ratanakkiri, Stung Treng, Preah Vihear,
Kratie, Kampong Cham, Kampong Speu, and Kampot.
"I rent a Malaysian ferry for $20,000 per month to export cows and buffalos,
and I have to pay the expenses. It takes four days to arrive in Malaysia.
"I make a profit from $0.10 to $0.20 per kilogram of cow or buffalo. One animal
weighs from one to two tons. I buy on the scales at whole liveweight. Buying from
the farmer has risks because the farmer always demands a high price and I sell according
to the current international price."
Reththy says he has actually been exporting cows and buffalos since 2000. "The
government let me operate the port temporarily then because I was seen as helping
development of the economy by buying cattle from citizens for export. The government
does not demand a tariff from me on cattle exports to Malaysia. It's like I am helping
to feed the poor Cambodians.
"I could think of many other kinds of business, but it depends on the political
situation in Cambodia. It is difficult to predict the future in terms of good business
investment. It is like our lives that we do not know when we are going to die."