Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Sihanoukville highway toll deal draws fire

Sihanoukville highway toll deal draws fire

Sihanoukville highway toll deal draws fire

The 35-year concession agreement granted to AZ Distribution Company to maintain and

service National Route 4 has drawn strong criticism from some government officials

and MPs.

Under the agreement, AZ Co will maintain the 210 kilometer long road, which it will

operate on a toll basis. A source at the company said that although the pricing policy

had not been announced, private car owners and taxi-drivers would have to pay one

dollar to travel the road to Sihanoukville.

"This decision by the government is a disgrace and does not serve the interests

of the people," said MP Son Chhay, who is chair of the National Assembly's committee

that deals with transport and public works. "Charging fees on vehicles could

affect people's livelihoods and is contradictory to the poverty reduction policy."

Taxi drivers, too, said they were extremely annoyed at the project. Son Chhay's words

were echoed by a group of disgruntled drivers who provide daily services along the

route.

Chhiang Doeun, a 35-year-old taxi-driver, has been running a service on Route 4 since

1991. He said that as he only earns 30,000 riel for a two-way journey, paying a $2

toll was impossible.

"I wonder why AZ Co. has built the toll booth to charge travelers. The route

was rebuilt with US government aid. Why doesn't the company repair the other badly-conditioned

national routes like route number 3?" he asked.

However, Tram Iv Tek, secretary of state for the Ministry of Public Works and Transport

(MPWT), defended the company in a speech given at a ceremony marking the official

opening of the road earlier this month.

"Organizations like the ADB and the World Bank advise that fees should be charged

for people using roads. Private companies should invest in road maintenance,"

he said.

"In countries like China they have already implemented this kind of project

successfully. The government here has the approval of the US embassy - they are happy

that the government is seeking capital from the private sector."

According to his speech, AZ Co. will invest $3 million in widening the road. They

will also build two toll booths and weigh-stations for trucks. He added that the

company would spend $10 million after five years to maintain the road.

In February this year, Prime Minister Hun Sen issued a power of attorney letter authorizing

Iv Tek, who is a member of the CPP, to sign an agreement with AZ Co. Chhay said that

this was done without the knowledge of MPWT Funcinpec minister, Khy Taing Lim, who

was questioned about the affair by Chhay's committee.

An MPWT official, who asked not to be named, said the agreement was not negotiated

properly.

"[Normally] the MPWT minister must sign the agreement," he said. "But

this agreement is not transparent."

The official said if the government wanted Route 4 renovated, it should have held

a public bid.

"I am not convinced that the AZ Distribution Company has millions of dollars

to invest, and furthermore it does not specialize in road construction," he

said.

Doeun commented: "Cambodian people are still poor after the war... We are very

frustrated about this."

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