Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday abruptly scrapped toll fees for National Road 4, ending a controversial 15-year contract with the politically connected business AZ Distribution Co.
As of 12am today, drivers of cars, trucks and buses no longer need to pay at any of the four toll booths along the 210-kilometre Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville highway, the premier announced at a National Assembly plenary session yesterday.
“Even though this decision has not been signed, as the head of the royal government, I can declare beforehand that the government will cancel the contract over the problems with National Road 4,” Hun Sen said.
“I hope that cancellation of the contract and retaking control of the road will mean there will be no fees for cars travelling along this highway.”
Hun Sun said his decision was not influenced by the opposition, which has long criticised the contract, but was prompted after his previous edict on January 7, declaring families living along the highway would no longer have to pay toll fees, was ignored.
“Please do not [take political] gain,” he told the opposition.
“The decider is Hun Sen; the signer is also Hun Sen.”
AZ Distribution Co manager Van Dorn said the company – which charged 11,200 riel (about $2.80) for small cars and 45,000 riel for buses and trucks to make the entire trip – had “no problem” with the decision.
Doeun refused to reveal details of the amount of money the company collected and invested in the road.
“I cannot answer. Some years it was much, some years it was enough,” Van Doeun said.
Issued in 2001, the open-ended concession was listed as a build-operate-transfer contract despite the highway being built, and subsequently reconstructed, with US funds.
An hour before the announcement, Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker Son Chhay, who has lobbied against the AZ contract since it was issued in 2001, reiterated his criticisms before the plenary session.
“Granting these rights to AZ [Distribution] lacks transparency,” Chhay said, arguing the company had invested “very little” in its infrastructure.
AZ founder Ung Bun Hov, a former Cambodian People’s Party lawmaker who resigned as a government adviser last May, was unreachable.
Minister for Public Works and Transport Tram Iv Tek said the ministry would take over the highway’s maintenance and form a committee to settle AZ Distribution’s contract.
Iv Tek said he “could not remember” details of AZ’s contract, as the company’s reports were sent to the Finance Ministry, whose spokesman could not be reached.
The announcement came two weeks after the premier brought another private toll road, Veng Sreng Boulevard, back under government control, citing a slew of online complaints.
Additional reporting by Shaun Turton