Keen-eyed citizens of Phnom Penh will have noticed the municipality's frenetic efforts
to improve the look of the capital. From paving the main streets to erecting traffic
lights that count down the impatient driver's waiting time, you could be forgiven
for thinking this was to wow the imminent influx of the region's leaders for November's
Not so, says Governor Chea Sophara. The beautification exercise - an ongoing mission
of his - has simply coincided with the meeting. But he acknowledges that removing
the potholes from the city's main roads will improve the country's image.
"We wanted smooth city streets as part of the development plan for our city
in 2002," he said. "My plan was not to have these developments to please
ASEAN's leaders - [the meeting] happens to have coincided with our plans."
Nhem Saran, director of the public works department, says the government has given
$12 million to redo 31 major arteries, which should ease congestion.
Twenty-one have been upgraded, with work continuing on the rest. And the Chinese
government has loaned $3 million to install six modern traffic lights, says Saran,
and for the appropriate task of repaving Mao Tse Tung Blvd. That runs past the city's
largest hotel, the Intercontinental, which will be the temporary home of many delegates.
"These traffic lights are not modern for developed countries," he says
of the countdown system, "but they are new for us. If all drivers understand
these lights, that will help reduce traffic jams."
However understanding the lights and obeying them are two different things. Saran
said that when the municipality tested drivers about the new lights, only half understood
what they were about. The rest, he admitted, are still ignoring the fact that a red
light means stop, a state of affairs that will doubtless linger long after the delegates
have gone home.