Background Stories in Sihanoukville
Let me recall some of the stories in relation to Sihanoukville province. The province and city (of Sihanoukville) themselves are no different to others in Cambodia. They were reduced to ruin in the time between 1975 and 1979. I could remember that in mid of 1979, I headed a committee to deal with goods provided by former Soviet Union, Vietnam and other countries, India also included, that were congested from sudden influx at the port of Sihanoukville. As Foreign Minister, I also led others such as Minister of Trade, which was then called a Trade Committee, Communications, Agriculture, etc. to work together to relieve goods from the port.
You may also know about the fact that my elder son could not recognize me after we were separated (under the Pol Pot’s regime). After he was getting to know me he never wanted to be away from me. He then followed me almost every I went those days. He then came with me to stay in Kompong Som (other name for Sihanoukville) too. I have this memory when I convened a meeting of the dock workers, who worked without monthly stipend, at this hotel (of seven floors). Those dock workers had then to be paid something not in cash in exchange for discharge delivery of so and so amount/number of goods. We then did not have as you can imagine the luxury of various cranes and mechanization for lift-ups.
I learnt from my visit then that there was this situation when our dock workers had had to steal some rice from the carried sacks by making holes on them and let rice run throughout into both of their trouser’s legs. Sometimes in darkness we had to pump gas from our vehicles to fuel a small generator for light. That was not a particular situation for Sihanoukville then but the whole country, where there were not even a market, not to mention hotels or guesthouses. I then stayed at a King’s former residence which was more decent of all at the time.
No to Electricity and Fertilizer from Waste
In the course of duty so far I have never committed mistakes on investment related decision. HE Chea Chanto (Governor of the National Bank of Cambodia) may have remembered that in 1991 there was a proposal to use an island of Cambodia to set up a waste-fuel factory to produce electricity. I mean they use waste as energy source for a factory which is to generate electricity. In his capacity as Minister of Health then, I think HE Yim Chhay Li also could recall this matter. I have not been much of a technical person but my instinctive question then was why they have to transport wastes from thousands of kilometers away, from one continent to another, just to generate electricity for Cambodia. What is lying behind this move?
In 1991, Cambodia was locked politically and economically. Technically and truthfully it was a country under embargo. In this context why else that particular person/company/country was generous to help us generate electricity from waste? I did not approve it. I asked them about radioactive risk and no matter how much it maybe, it would be dangerous enough for our coastline. That was one case before we established (the first-term) Royal Government.
During the time when we had the first-term Royal Government established, this incident had bounced back. In 1996, I expressed my disapproval from the Ministry of Environment on a request to use an island of Cambodia to generate electricity using waste imported from foreign countries as fuel again. By 1997, there was a multinational corporation coming to see me at the Takhmao residence and explaining to me about the latest technology of its kind that electricity could be generated to provide low price power. They said Cambodia would not be able to provide enough waste and had to import waste from other countries. I suggested to them that they may keep the best technology they have for themselves.
Again, on another occasion, HE Hor Nam Hong (currently Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation) called me on phone and consulted about a request by a country to produce fertilizer on an island in Cambodia. It was similar one as they requested to make fertilizer for us from waste. I told HE Hor Nam Hong that the country should consider providing Cambodia with ready-made fertilizer rather than having to come this far to burn waste to make fertilizer for us here.
Cambodia – Not a Dumping Site, Pursuing One Interest, Jeopardizing Another
It is in this note that I always declared openly that Cambodia is no dumping site for modern technology at all. Along this line I have requested to all Cambodian experts, even in telecommunication, to choose the best and modern, not the outdated, technology for Cambodia. However, sometimes because of silliness and incomprehension, you even had shown gratitude to those who introduced outdated technology to us.
Take for instance here at the seaport of Sihanoukville, some custom officials have been relegated from position and duty because of irresponsibility to allow import of mercury from Taipei. Last year we also caught containers of waste that were brought in for cremation in Stoeung Meanjei – you may know that we have a waste-fuel electric generation there. In this connection I must confirm to the Cambodian public that we have refrained from committing mistake by letting any of our islands to be used as dumping sites of other countries’ wastes.
Let’s all imagine, would the Club of the Most Beautiful Bays approve Cambodian request for membership, if we have a factory that generates electricity from waste as fuel on one of our islands here? This also urges us to always reconsider about projects where the risk of pursuing for one interest would jeopardize another.
Unfriendly Environmental Actions
We also have to be careful about our actions that may bring to bear unfriendly environmental impacts on our ecological system. One matter concerns the pumping of sand from both the river and/or sea. Two years ago I signed an order to disapproving and stopping all sand pumping activities. I then called for studies and recommendations to be commissioned by the Ministries of Environment, Water Resources, as well as Industry, Energy and Mines, as to where sand pumping can/should be allowed and where not. None has come up with any suggestions.
Certain aspects of consequence from sand pumping have been provided but one important point on whether pumping of sand at the sea or river bed would remove sand cover from the bank and/or cause land erosion or not has not yet been answered. HE Chan Sarun, Minister of Agriculture has expressed serious concern on this matter. It is truly so because it is the duty and interest of the Ministry of Agriculture to look after land erosion and movement issue. If such action does bring about land erosion and/or removal of sand cover, what would happen to all of the beaches and bays? I just ordered the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology to take action about sand pumping matter which brought to my attention by the Minister of Tourism.
A case of sand pumping has also been brought to attention by the Ji Phat tourist community, which is quite annoyed of the fact that it could result in land erosion. A carefully studied plan needs to be crafted out here as to where sand pumping can be allowed.
There has also been a case of land reclamation or filling up the sea to get more land. I am not that pessimistic on all reclamations but I am asking for a thorough study of the case and there must be a well documented study as to where we should or should not reclaim it. We have allowed in some places the construction of ports where certain measures need to be taken into consideration. That would include how we put up barrier (for land erosion) and sand dredging to make way for navigation, etc.
Another issue of concern here is the extraction of titanium that we have not gone for it and therefore we have made a mistake too. According to economic estimate, titanium in the Ji Phat area could bring in some three billion USD to the country’s economy. However, I have made a decision to cancel the mining until improved technology, like drilling rig or something, is available. As it will not perish, we may let it sit under ground. I have decided so because I defend some twenty thousand hectares of forest cover which otherwise would be removed for titanium mining.
It is even more so when we had to safeguard the endangered species that are residing in the forests along the Kravanh mountain range. Also, this vast area serves as a rain water collection surface for hydropower generation at the dams at Ta Tai, A Tai and Russei Jrum Kraom. One factor that may be invisible is that if we go ahead with titanium mining, because of waste flow into sea, which as a result, the Club of the Most Beautiful Bays would reconsider its position on Cambodian membership. One may never know, because our blue water sea may turn into yellow.
Conservation versus Development and Vice Versa
We have yet committed mistakes. It is indeed a serious matter that we have to be imbued with conservation concept in our development effort, and to design development in benefit of conservation too. That is why I have called for serious examination and careful studies on sand pumping and land reclamation mentioned above so that we can prevent mistakes being made. It is indeed a blessing for Cambodia that the 440 km of its coastline bordering with all four provinces (Koh Kong, Sihanoukvillle, Kompot and Kep) has been admitted altogether at once as the most beautiful bay.
If I am not mistaken, in Vietnam, only the beaches of Nha Trang and Ha Long have been honored with this rank. The beach at Vung Tau and various others have yet to be admitted so. With this remark I would instruct all four provincial governors to emulate in city beauty contest, which we have discussed the other day in the Cabinet’s meeting about setting up criteria and conditions that one could be approved as a city of beauty or so. We now need to set up similar criteria for contest of all four cities of the best bay members of Cambodia.
Achievements from Scratch
I may have the attention of all foreign guests here that Sihanoukville today is way different from what it was (after the fall of the Pol Pot’s regime). In Phnom Penh then there were only 70 people in the whole capital. We have tried to build urban and rural areas from scratch after we traded our lives to drive away the regime of genocide from the country. In condition that the country was in context of peace in some parts and war in others, and on top of those, economic embargo and attempt to return to power of the genocide had made us busy defending and constructing the country at the same time.
I am sure it is to everyone’s knowledge that the admittance of Cambodian membership to the Club of the Most Beautiful Bay follows not long after the temple of Preah Vihear has been registered as one of the World Heritages. I do not know full well about criteria set in their study, but according the Radio France International, there was a study (by Travel Leisure magazine) that Cambodia’s Siem Reap city where there is a well-known magnificent Angkor Watt temple, was ranked as the 7th best city among ten top cities in the world. Paris has come tenth.
For Sihanoukville, many have come to see me about working on a golf course on which I even gave my recommendations. As of now, unfortunately, there is not even a single hole here. I am calling out for thought. If we were to have golf courses, tourists would enjoy playing golf in the morning and bathing in the evening. We could then link up flight from the city of Siem Riep to the city of Sihanoukville. They come to Sihanoukville to bathe in the afternoon after a visit to Angkor Watt in the morning at Siem Riep.
I know that some projects have endured the impacts of the financial crisis and economic downturn. However, it seems that they have taken it too long to recover here. If they could not gather money for it, I advise they leave it to others. I suggest them to keep no approved projects in drawers and wait. Tomorrow the Koh Pouos Bridge will be inaugurated. What about other investment projects? I am calling the Cambodia Development Council to make a serious review of all investment projects and take them back if they were not to be implemented./.