PM, Sokha Spar over Road Toll

Ros Chanveasna and Jonathan Cox / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
Prime Minister Hun Sen in his previous speech. KT/Chor Sokunthea

Political leaders from both parties have once again taken their grievances to Facebook as they fight to take credit for the decision to remove the tolls on National Road 4.
 
On Friday, deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha posted a video in which he claimed that the opposition pressured the government into removing the tolls on the highway. Prime Minister Hun Sen retorted yesterday, calling Mr. Sokha’s claim “propaganda.”     
 
In January, the government took over management of National Road 4, which runs from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville, from AZ Holdings Co. and removed the 2,800 riel toll on the road. It was the most recent of several populist moves that included the removal of the inheritance tax on real estate and the removal of the requirement for a driver’s license to operate vehicles under 125cc.
 
In his speech Friday, which he posted on Facebook, Mr. Sokha took credit for the end of tolls on National Road 4. “If the CNRP had not been formed, maybe National Road 4 would still be a toll road,” he said.  
 
Mr. Hun Sen shot back in another Facebook post. “The opposition has claimed responsibility for the achievements of the Cambodian People’s Party [CPP] and prime minister,” he said. “[It is] demagoguery and propaganda to deceive people… what the opposition party has really done is deceive, insult, and provoke.”
 
A spokesman for the opposition could not be reached for comment on Mr. Hun Sen’s remarks.
 
As both the opposition and ruling party try to take credit for these changes, some analysts have raised concerns that some of the new measures could hurt rather than help. Transportation analyst Ear Chariya said that the decision to take over National Road 4 could have nasty side effects. “The government will be able to manage the road without the help of a private company in the short run,” he said, “but this will not be sustainable to manage the road.”
 
Some ordinary citizens who live on the coast said they were also concerned that the quality of the road, which already suffers from potholes and long stretches of unpaved dirt, could worsen.
 
One Sihanoukville resident said that she thought it was “great” that the government removed the tolls, but expressed concern that the road’s upkeep would suffer. In the month since the government took over maintenance of the road, she said she has already seen more trash accumulate along its side.  
 
Some analysts have also raised concerns that the government’s takeover of the road could discourage other private companies like AZ Holdings from investing in infrastructure. “The government’s decision to take the road over from the company could decrease private companies’ confidence in investing in improving future road infrastructure in the country,” said Mr. Chariya.
 
AZ Holdings could not be reached for comment. Other roads in Cambodia are managed by private companies as well, including Ly Yongphat Road, which connects National Road 5 and National Road 6.
 
“It is a mistake for the CPP to take the road over for gaining votes from the citizens,” Mr. Chariya said. “The company [AZ Holdings] could lose their long-term profit, the government is losing trust from the private company, and citizens are losing the benefit from the road because the government will not be able to manage the road in the long run.”
 
 

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