Every year my wife and I come to visit our workers in the Autonomous Seaport of Sihanoukville. This year, as usual, it falls on the 120th anniversary of the International Labor Day and the groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of the port’s one-stop-service administrative building. My presence on this occasion brought about successively the renovation of the existing facilities of the port, the extension of the general cargo terminal. Everything here is possible because we have the loan of 77 million US dollars from the Government of Japan and more will be sought for the development of the special economic zone project, which is adjacent to the port.
Just now HE Ambassador of Japan Fumiaki Takahashi has mentioned the Japanese offer to give loan at an adjusted interest rate from 0.9% to 0.01% or frankly speaking at a symbolic rate, or a apparently comparable to non-interest rate. This is a good sign and also an advice to Cambodia to recognize its duty that every loan must be paid back. This April HE Fumiaki and I have been presiding over inauguration and groundbreaking of various projects assisted by the Government’s grant and loan – the National Road 2 between Takeo and the border at Phnom Den, the clean water system in Siemreap, the School of Medical Technology and the JICA cooperation center. This is the seventh project in line. All this has reflected consideration given by Japan for Cambodia’s socio-economic development and for the reduction of developmental gap between old and new members of ASEAN, as reflected in the reduction of the Japanese loan’s interest rate to the lowest level.
The building – after its construction – will help facilitate the trade activities and the speed of facilitation will greatly reduce from three hours to less than ten minutes. The port will then become a standard one and competitive not only in Cambodia but also in the region. As a large segment of time is going to be reduced, trade activities will be speeded up and will gain its competitive advantage. We have gathered here – the one-stop-service institutions concerned with trade activities – port officials, police, CamControl, Kamsab and quarantine. We have one port of this kind at the border with Vietnam. I would like to have your attention that though we have office in place, it would still be important to have the involvement from human beings – because if human beings are not working, the office will stay idle.
HE Minister Sun Chanthol for Transports and Public Works has just mentioned what needs to be done in the time to come. It is indeed true that the US Company has discovered oil in our territorial water and will start using our port more frequently for the sake of providing its services to the drilling site. I would ask HE Fumiaki to consider more loans for this project. If we could not get the loan, we should set a part of the profit aside for the construction of such a facility – a strategy of using existing port for the expansion of other port facilities. The number of ship calling in the port has increased and more will come when we have the Kong Keng airport upgraded.
What we want to do now is to get the paper work system working 24 hours upon 24 hours. Some politicians have sought for the reduction of working hour in the factory, but some of the workers would like to work more in order to get more money. It is worth recalling that airport and seaport are like a throat to feed the body and that is why I am taking this time to expand the seaport service facility. As we have the lowest interest rate now, it would be a plus we could ask for more. It is indeed important to see that the number of ship calling in the seaport of Sihanoukville has gone down, but taking the up curve again in the first three months of 2006. It has reflected a general development where fierce competition among local ports is noted, but also where a regulatory mechanism for an appropriate strategy for ports in Cambodia should also be considered.
If we were to maintain the status of one port only, we would not be able to facilitate the economic flow for the country. One example in point – why the discharge of goods in cement and steel has gone down here? It has been less because it is cheaper to transport on land from the border with Thailand to Siemreap. It is not economically right to ban the port at Poi Pet just to let the number of goods increase at the seaport. We are keeping strive for economic competition. The same is true for the Royal Air Cambodge – whose operation ceased but does not result in loss of flights but more. We also have the same policy for the seaport of Sihanoukville. It is the only blue water seaport in the country, so we have to see that it is equipped with all the facilities needed.
Sooner we will have more ports and exits along the border. What is important for us would be to place one tax system for all ports and exits and they should compete with one another by reputation of their customer service. We should think of competitive strategy not only for the seaport of Sihanoukville but for the whole country, as special economic zone will not be only in Sihaoukville. We have SEZ in Bavet of Svay Rieng province, and there will be in Takeo’s Phnom Den, Koh Kong, Pailin and Stoeungtreng. Production will be right at the door step to export and that will be a competitive chance challenge for enterprises.
If it were not because of my strictness and commitment to keeping this seaport, in 1994, 1995 and 1996, it could have been privatized already. I was determined to not let that happen. The state’s capital reserve for the port of Sihanoukville is huge and now we have to administer self-management, like what HE Sun Chanthol said – a state enterprise, but a private management system. Any move for investment project would have to take into consideration all related matters. Profits generated by the ports have also been used in building the national 21 and the road to Kompong Kantuot.
Take this opportunity I wish to thank the Governor and Deputy Governors for their efforts to provide safety and security for our people from all over the country to enjoy the Khmer New Year. I would urge the Sihanoukville’s leaders to consider allowing our people to let out their spare rooms to guests and that has been a policy we implemented elsewhere since the time of the former State of Cambodia. This is indeed a practical policy which helps our people increase their income. Attention should be paid in protecting the beach and coastal areas, while keeping them clean. The country is at peace now. We have to make the country develop using this chance. We have to seek all means to let our people benefit from peace and development. Efforts must be made in providing safety and security for tourists, while overcoming problems of gangsters./.