More Participants than Expected
It is indeed my pleasure to be able to come with HE Pan Guangxue, Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), to share the joy with all of our people and Buddhist monks in laying the ground for the construction of national road 57B that is running 176, 35 Kilometers long through this part of Battambang province. It is in this joy that I would like to express my sincere thanks and appreciation that our people have turned out in greater number than expected to participate in this auspicious event to welcome new achievement that is coming out of cooperation between Cambodia and PRC.
I learn too that our people’s high turnout is to get a better sense of who are their deputies from the constituency of Battambang province. HE Sar Kheng, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, is indeed head of the Battambang constituency working team of the Cambodian People’s Party. As a member of the Cambodian People’s Party and one of its parliamentarians, who is holding the position of the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia, I would like to express my sincere appreciation and gratefulness to your warm welcome.
Gratefulness to Chinese Assistance
I would like to take this solemn occasion to express my sincere thanks through the PRC’s Ambassador HE Pan Guangxue to the Government and people of China for (financial) assistance for the Cambodian people and government in constructing this road. I also take this opportune moment to thank the Ministry of Public Works and Transports, the Ministry of Economy and Finance, relevant institutions and sub-national level authorities, for joining efforts to get project off the ground. I also thank and give my sincere appreciation to the de-mining team involved in clearing this project site from mines and UXOs.
Late Better than Never
Though we are joyful today that we have this new construction underway, as it is not my way to get people under command to be responsible for own flaw in leadership, I still have to seek your forgiveness on for my negligence in efforts so far to have this road constructed. In fact this road had been planned for construction many times but never succeeded. There was a time when we signed a BOT contract with a private company but it did not work out. As the contract was to be nullified, the company then requested for extension on this and that reason. Some more time was then given for the contract extension. The private sector failed to fulfill its obligation, this road has then been left in this state of deterioration.
This has happened twice in this part of the country. Firstly, the BOT contract to build the national road 6 segment between Si Sophon to Siem Riep. The construction never started in full while in the course of our discussion, the contractor had placed us in a difficult condition. After the private companies’ failure to fulfill the contract, a reasonably big amount of money was earmarked (by the Royal Government) for construction to get part of the road constructed and the remaining part has been left for financial assistance from PRC.
I would recommend that any company may wish to express interest in road construction must deposit a reasonably large sum of money with possibly limited extension of duration of implementation of contract. As for today, we all are in the state of ‘late is still better than never’ or that I used to say slow pace of construction is still better than doing nothing.
Three Segment Road for Five Districts
As is explained by HE Tram Ivtoeuk, Minister for Public Works and Transports, and confirmed by HE Pan Guangxue, the national road 57 has three segments in all. The first segment stretches 90 Kilometers from the district of Thmor Kol to the districts of Bovel and Sampeo Loun. The second segment of 69.75 Kilometers is running from the district of Bovel to Village 30 and on to the district of Phnom Proeuk. The third segment of this road is running 16.60 Kilometers from the Village 30 to Komrieng-O Da. In all three segments together makes 176.35 Kilometers. This road is eleven meters wide and running on 46 bridges.
The total cost of the road and bridges is 89.98 million USD, plus the counterpart fund to be provided from the Cambodian coffer. As you have heard the road is actually running through five districts of Battambang province – Thmo Kol, Bovel, Sapeo Loun, Phnom Proeuk and Komrieng. However the road would extend its benefits beyond direct impact on life of some 300,000 people in the districts to those who have to travel through these provinces as their shortcut to/from some part of Battambang, the provinces of Banteay Meanjei and Pailin.
From Battlefields to Development/Marketplaces
As a matter of fact this road has taken shape in our quest to transform former battlefields into zones of development and real marketplaces. This area was former battlefield that ended fighting only in 1996. It is therefore important for us to raise high the spirit of national reconciliation on the basis of peace and political stability that is precondition for the country’s socio-economic development. Actually, this road could never be made real if the war were to have continued to these days. It is quite fortunate that we now have the ability to build the country’s infrastructure and to serve our people. I am sure this project will serve great interest of our people in the area.
The area through which the road project runs is potentially rich with some 225,000 hectares of arable land. This will ascertain that Battambang will continue to be the biggest rice bowl and the centre of various agricultural crops of the country. This will ensure the province’s forthcoming role as agro-industrial centre of the whole nation. You may learn that Battambang has got over one million tons of cassava and half a million tons of corn. HE Pan Guangxue already mentioned about the potential reserve of rice from Battambang too.
More Chinese Investments Called For
Having said so, I would like to seek more investment from the People’s Republic of China in rice mills. It is to everyone’s knowledge that there is plenty of rice in Battambang but our rice milling capacity and capability is not up to standard yet. Investors from China could also buy and mill rice in Cambodia for export to other countries. One million tons of cassava is not that easy for transportation without processing it. I would suggest that they come invest in building processing factory and export final products to China or any other countries they may see fit.
Let me therefore urge again for thorough study of investment opportunity here in Cambodia and there is no need for the company to invest in plantation but to just consider investment in processing part as this will eventually create a strong market for local farmers. They may also work in form of contracted farming (since the Royal Government already issued) a sub-decree few weeks now on this to provide seed, technology to farmers and to ensure buy-back from them.
State’s Northwest Investments in Four Prioritized Areas
As is said by HE Pan Guangxue, to this part of the country we have built the national road 57 that is running through the provinces of Battambang, Banteay Meanjei and Pailin and on to the border with Thailand, the national road 59 from Banteay Meanjei, Poi Pet and on to Pailin, and today we have the national road 59B. Among the three provinces to the northwest of Cambodia, Battambang has got the biggest share from the project financed by the People’s Republic of China – 103 Km of national road 57, 144 Km of national road 59, and this 176, 35 Km of national road 57B.
In addition to the irrigation project under construction in Konghot of the district of Banan with the financial assistance from the People’s Republic of China, in the district of Thmo Kol, the state has invested a fair sum of resources in building main canals and dams in the communes of O Taki, Jrou Sdao, Roung Jrei, Bansai Treng, and Boeung Pring. The Royal Government is phasing in capital investment for the northwestern part of the countries – Pursath, Battambang, Banteay Meanjei, etc.
The four prioritized areas – water (for irrigation), roads, electricity and human resources – are underway. Take for instance in Pursath (province), we are constructing irrigation system in Damnak Ampel and Jaret, and in Banteay Meanjei province, we are investing in improving the irrigation capability of Tropang Thmor and in Battambang province, I already mentioned.
As far as electricity is concerned, we are going to wire up electricity from hydroelectric power stations (in Koh Kong) via Pursath and on to Battambang, In fact here in Battambang we have purchased electricity from Thailand. Concerning human resource development, the northwestern provinces of Battambang and Banteay Meanjei, with helps of Deputy Prime Ministers, HE Sar Kheng and HE Ke Kim Yan, two universities have been put into operation – the University of Battambang and University of Banteay Meanjei. As we are now building roads here, we all can see that the Royal Government is putting up efforts to get the four prioritized areas accomplished.
Reality versus Empty Promises
It has taken quite sometime before we could get these tasks fulfilled. I would not dare promise our people that things like this could happen in just days or months. The country’s gross domestic products (GDP) which had been around 6% and 7%, for instance, has also dropped to only 1%. Some politicians may want you to believe that they can do a better job, like guaranteeing that they will give them one hundred cows (if ever they get elected).
How could they make empty promise like that for our people? Is not it a lie? What is ironical is while making promise, the person does not even have a cow of his own. How could they promise building concrete home for our people while they live in cottage? What I am trying to elaborate here is for those politicians to back away from making promise that they cannot keep. It would be best for them to promise people with what they can do and in accordance with available resources.
Peace and Economic Development – Interdependent Factors
I only can guarantee that where there is infrastructure in place, there will be a great chance for national economic progress. Economic development and peace are two inseparable factors and interdependent. In absence of peace, the country can never make economic development, and in absence of the latter, one can never guarantee that peace prevails for long. If poverty is getting worse, to a level that people cannot tolerate, instability would step in and peace would disrupt.
In the case of Cambodia, since 1979, this country has made a great deal of progress from a country where people starved to a country that exports rice, though with limited capital and rice mill capability, the amount export is still small. Our problem today is not lack of rice but means to purchase, dry, house and mill rice, especially, for export quality. In absence of this means our farmers have sold paddy to neighboring countries, which should have been processed in the country for value added and jobs.
It is so impressive that we have achieved a status of rice exporting country as this year we can export 2.5 million tons of milled rice since we have a surplus of four million tons of paddy. Dry season rice this year has been cultivated with 20% more than plan. It should be noted that thanks to water resources (availability from the Royal Government’s irrigation investment) our people continue to multiply cropping season. Take for instance here in Battambang’s Bovel and Komping Puoy, people are cultivating year round.
Workers Encouraged to Stay and Work in the Country
Some people have said that early season rice sells better in quantity and price than that of late season. It has been the case not only in Battambang province but in Prey Veng too. The rice grown to be harvested late, (relatively within the rainy season) in absence of drying means other than sun, tends to be breaking when milling. That is the reason why millers or traders bring the price down or they would not like to buy it. However, there is one other reason too. That is lack of laborers. I would on this occasion appeal to our people to seek for job inside the country as there are plenty of works available now.
I encourage Cambodians to find works inside the country rather than going to neighboring Thailand where they would work in no other jobs but harvesting crops like in our country too. You may find similar income and less expense too in the country. In addition to these, our people who are migrant workers tend to be badly treated for illegal status and racial discrimination too. I am sure the Thai government is also having difficulty in resolving this matter too because there are migrant workers from Laos and Myanmar too.
Borrowing for National Development
I am so happy that the Cambodian-Chinese cooperation has brought about this longing project realization for our people in this part of the country as well as for the whole nation. I am sure elderly people are anticipating the finalization of this road construction which has been projected to be in December 2014. However, according to experiences in other projects, the Chinese companies always accomplished ahead of set schedule. Once again I would like to send my appreciation and gratefulness through HE Pan Guangxue to Premier HE Wen Jiabao, as well as the Government and people of PRC, for financing this project for the first time in Chinese Yuan currency.
We also do that with Japan. We used to get financial loan in USD from China but as far as this project is concerned, we are loaned in Chinese Yuan, which is a good thing since the interest rate is low. The only problem here is Yuan currency is strong and gradually gaining value compared to the USD. This is a loan and we will need to pay back in principle and interest. Some people may ask why Cambodian should borrow other’s money. Well, we need money to invest in national construction and in this world every country depends on one another. Some do not owe money to others but to own people.
Take for instance Japan, because of the quake and tsunami force majeure, the government/sovereign debt has risen to an equivalence of 200% of its GDP. The same should be noted in the case of Greece, Spain, Portugal, etc. where there have been huge sovereign debts. As in the case of the United States of America, they have a huge sovereign debt but also that with shareholders. We (are also quite concerned because we also) have a fairly sum of USD in reserve fund. Cambodia is now achieving a per capita annual income of 830 USD. When this is progressing into 1,200 USD, we would not be able to access concessional loan anymore, because we are no longer defined as developing country./.