In Search of Viable Road Standard
Road construction should be well planned in accordance with country’s development. We have had many experiences on this. In the 1990s we see roads of six and seven meters in width as large ones. Assistance provided to Cambodia in those days was done also along with this trend of thought. Now, road of seven meters in width is no longer viable for traffic in the country any more. In various places we have enlarged our national road standard to eleven meters wide. We also have to enlarge the national road 6A, from Phnom Penh at Jroi Jangva starting from the Cambodian-Japanese Friendship Bridge to the junction (between Prek Kadam and national road 7), into a 19 meters wide roads of four lanes. This may also be the case of the national road 5 from Phnom Penh to Prek Kadam too.
I would urge for a thorough study on road construction basing on demand and future need. For instance, perhaps we could build, with available resources, shorter length at a time but wider standard ones. If it is the case we must do so. Foreseeing future need would enable us to assume the amount of needed resources, the sort and size of roads to be built, on what sort of base and sub-base, etc. Though we may have built shorter length of road but we have strong base to continue and will not demolish old one to build a new.
I have said it on several occasions that road repair must be done before small scale damage turn into bigger one. We now have a commission established with composition from the Minsitry of Economy and Finance and the Ministry of Transport and Public Works. I have said and even organized a Cabinet meeting in a bus along national road 1. In similar situation, I pushed for the national road 5 to be built without waiting for the Asian Development Bank’s decision. It was ready in time for the Dhammayatra (Buddhist pilgrimage). The same was true for a number of roads inside the city of Siem Reap and access roads to Angkor Wat temple complexes.
Once reason why the roads had been left without care and repair was because we were waiting for outside assistance and another reason was we did not take immediate repair action when the damage was small. Let’s remember, a small damage today would grow bigger in the following days. Therefore it is my urgent call that districts and communes where there are national roads running through, with provincial transport and public works units at their disposal, they are supposed to take care of these holes/damages in a timely manner.
I would say there would not be improvement if we were to follow the above protracted working style. Remember, the bigger the hole the more the repair would cost. Also, repair must be done in general because I heard some people who said ‘if it were not for Samdech Hun Sen to come through this road, repair work would not have been the case.’ I would have your attention here that Hun Sen should not be a motive for the road should be repaired. I want concerned institutions to take initiative and act in their duty and responsibility.
When you have written and hung it on the wall that ‘Always Look after the Roads’ you should understand that there are two components in it. First, you look for and repair damage and second you are checking out for illegal checkpoints. You may as well see the problem when traveling along the road to and from Phnom Penh. Passing by once in a while, you may not find it boring and annoying. For people who are on the road everyday checkpoints have been their disgust. I would like to urge actions by the Ministry of Interior, who also chairs the land transport commission, to enforce the law. I would also seek stern action by the Ministry of Justice in issues relating to court actions for traffic law offenses.
As for the illegal checkpoints, I say it again, if, under your jurisdiction and administrative boundary, there are any, you all should resign for not fulfilling your duties. If you cannot enact this law I allow you to leave your posts and positions. Let’s leave them for younger officials who are even more competent and determined to get the job done. I also contributed articles to newspaper in the past about issues of abuse of power, corruption, etc. Take for instance my article titled ‘Permission Letter Number 50,’ which was figuratively meant that anything can be done and permitted with the permission letter with number 50 or 50 Riel banknote in the past. It was back in 1986/87.
Here is the book ‘Ten Years of Cambodia’s Journey – 1979 through to 1989’ that I wrote twenty years ago. Let me get back to a section where I outlined my vision on transport and public works back then. In fact the book was a compilation of various writings I did in the country, Vietnam, India, former Soviet Union, France, Indonesia and finally in Vientiane. Since there was different understanding on various issues, I took the initiative to put out ideas on several issues as food for thought. I also wrote another book, which is literally my thesis and which a part of it was repackaged and compiled for a publication called ‘Thirteen Decades of Cambodia’s Journey.’ The first book was published in 1988, now it has been reprinted using computerized Unicode Khmer fonts that allows posting on (and uploading and downloading from) the internet (www.cnv.org.kh).
Let me read pages 212 through to 214 for you so that we all see what problems were then and what have been repeated now. Please take them as my vision from twenty years ago. Here quote:
“There remain various issues to be resolved in the field of communication and transport. Wearing out and damage of roads, bridges, including also rails, demands for urgent and major repairs, but we are in short of cash and materials to get these demands answered. In addition to these, overloaded capacity transportation beyond road and bridge weight limit has aggravated further the road condition and broken bridges. Means for public transportation are not up to demand for travelling demand. Transport means – whether trucks or engine boats – are overloaded with passengers and goods, which then caused fatal accidents. There have not been adequate numbers docking places, thus leaving them docking anywhere they wish along the riverbank. This is also a risk of fatal accident for our people. These have added in all so much difficulties for our people to travel, both because of time consuming and/or fatal accident. Worse still, in recent years, in addition to all the above, there have been too many legal and illegal checkpoints where engine boats and/or passenger buses had to spend hours waiting to be checked. This also further complicated travelling, loss of time and in many instances adding costs, for our people. In late 1987, the Council of Ministers ordered for closure of a large number of checkpoints, which then improved travelling a bit. However, with more time continued to be spent at the remaining checkpoints, in some instances from illegal ones set up by bad elements.
We have not yet worked out a sophisticated way to control and manage private means of transportation such as trucks, buses, engine boats, etc., and no clear policy has been set on issues of private transportation yet. The problem here lies on the fact that as the State has not got sufficient number of transport means that are corresponding to growing travelling demands of our people, we shall allow for use of private investment and means for transportation under the state control and management so that we could address this issue of travelling demands. Since we have allowed people to have and use private cars, we should also allow them to import passenger buses – both medium and large size – to address these demands. In fact, in the past years, some people have started this private bus and engine boat service business, large and medium, already. So what remains to be done here is to work out principles needed for expansion and better management on transport means of all sizes. Lately, the state has come to a decision allowing the private sector to do business in passenger transportation, while encouraging through tax incentive for import of transport means.
Another point to be raised here is the rising traffic accidents in the cities and along national roads due largely to overloaded transportation and over-speeding in addition to disorderliness that caused loss of human lives and heavy property damages.”
In page 378 of the Chapter on Reform, I have suggested and quote:
“We must dare encourage the private sector to use their capital for building or importing means of transports such as engine boats and trucks so as to serve for the need of our people’s transportation. What we should be afraid of here is not owner of the buses and/or engine boats. What we are afraid of is indeed fatal accidents among our people, their hardships and loss of time while journeying because of lack of transport means. The state has got sufficient means to control and manage them. ”
The book was written and was never brought for consultation within the Party. The book has in fact covered so many issues. Most of my reform ideas have been raised in the book and they have been proven successes. I take this opportune moment to thank Samdech Chea Sim and Samdech Heng Samrin as well as other Party leaders for the time and experiences they have offered me. Though it was written some twenty years ago but I still keep consulting with it to see if my vision then has become a reality now.
The book argues topics of political development, military and diplomacy but also socio-economics. It carries a large deal of information and notes on political negotiations (on the Cambodian issue). Now the whole book is available on www.cnv.org.kh in Khmer.
Now let’s look into issues of overloading, over-speeding and checkpoints that we encountered in the past and try to figure out the way to prevent them from happening. As for this problem of people non-technically extend their vehicle’s length and loading volume exceeding the weight-to-length ratio for road and bridge, I would command you to not talk to the owners but get their truck disengaged, as we have warned them so many times already, and reprimand owners to pay for the work done. I would suggest that you do not check their weight while they are on the road but before they got off loading places.
Checking them on the road would not stop them because they may give money to truck load check agents and pass. Transportation companies whose trucks’ tires are wearing away, they must not be allowed to run in the roads. The case of So Nguon Company that I mentioned the other day is an example. The company wrote to me and assured me they would change the situation. I order that strict measures must be applied not only for So Nguon Company but all. It is now no time to repeat what has been said many times already.
Container carrier is also a matter of concern. I would suggest that you concerned authorities – police, military police and public work officials – should convene transportation companies for a meeting to discuss ways to deal with these problems. I think it is good if the Minister of Trade is also taking part in the meeting because if those companies are not paying attention to what have been discussed and agreed upon, the Ministry can cancel their trade licenses./.