The government, hoping to lure more tourists to Cambodia, has launched a campaign
to clean up the graceful but crumbling capital of Phnom Penh.
"We want our city to be as beautiful as it was in the Sihanouk years,"
said Vice-Minister of the Public Works Dept., Mr. Than.
Since the city was recaptured from the Khmer Rouge 14 years ago, the government has
tried numerous campaigns to curb littering and pollution in the city although all
have failed because of a shortage of funds.
Than said that this time, however, the new government was determined to implement
the directive and would begin by expelling food hawkers from public places and the
sides of streets. The project has been launched in tandem with a private "clean
up the city campaign" organized by a coalition of monks, students and government
Whether this year's campaign is more successful than earlier ones remains to be seen.
Ouk Cheat, vice-director of Phnom Penh remains skeptical. "We are short of everything.
The ministry-supplied equipment has had it and most of the Soviet-made trucks are
on their deathbed," he said
"We need more trucks, more materials and more payment," he complained.
Currently, the Phnom Penh Public Works Department has a monthly budget of only 33,428,000
riels or about $12,380 to pay for equipment and the wages of 1,870 employees. Cheat
estimates the department would need a 119,936,000 riels per month to maintain the
city but such money is not likely to be forthcoming in the near future he said.
Tran brushed off complaints about the lack of funds and said the first thing to do
was to fix the city's electricity, water and sewerage systems. France and Japan have
said they are surveying several capital projects to help renovate the city utilities.
In the wet season, the city often floods within an hour of it raining because the
sewage system has been clogged with rubbish. Many sewer pipe covers have been smashed
by people seeking to remove the iron grilling inside.
The Tonle Bassac has also become a dumping ground for restaurants and hotels operating
on the river bank but the vice minister said "right now, we are paying more
attention to the ruined city than the river."
"The matter of dumping waste or garbage into the river is not serious,"
Some government officials complain that many of Phnom Penh's residents don't know
how to live in a city and were critical of their lack of civic responsibility. According
to Phnom Penh municipality figures, about 85 per cent of the city's current residents
moved into Phnom Penh after the Khmer Rouge emptied the city of urbanites in 1975.
Nout Chea, 45, sitting with her vegetables on the street near Psaa Ches (old market),
said, "I understand that this mess is not very good but many people work like
this because they have to survive. If the government wants to clean it up, they should
do something about providing a place where we can sell our merchandise," she