Phnom Penh – From Empty to Congested Capital

I am so glad today to be able to join with Buddhist monks and compatriots in the launch of the construction of an overpass and an underpass at the Techno junction that we will, as is proclaimed by Mayor of Phnom Penh, Pa So Cheatvong, call it the Techno Overpass. Our starting had been a difficult one. We came from a capital where there were no dwellers and roads on which there were no commuters. We have now come to a state of traffic congestion in the capital after 30 years of the liberation from the regime of Pol Pot. Our needs at liberation time were different. In those days, all we needed was sufficient food for the people. There was not a big problem too as far as lodgment or housing was concerned. There were many empty houses available. Now we have more needs to answer.

Growing settlements in and around the Capital of Phnom Penh has put lots of pressure on urbanization and planning. About 10% of the Cambodian population is living in Phnom Penh, where there has only some 700 square Kilometers. About 90% of the population of 14 millions resides in the rest of the country. We have to face with settlement issues as well as traffic congestion, which is mainly caused by the increasing number of means of transports. If we were to continue to achieve 75% growth in our economy per annum, there is no way that means of transports will be less in number. As end of the 2014 approaches, people already asked for the 2015 model of their means of transports already.

It is a contrasting development, I would say, to the time after the liberation in 1979, or even the periods between 1970 and 1975 and between 1975 and 1979. Before the war in 1970, means of transports also grew to a remarkable magnitude already. I lived in a pagoda near here so I knew how the traffics were then. There has been clear need for investing in infrastructure, not only overpasses and underpasses but also more roads to be widened and/or built in and around the capital aimed at reducing traffic pressure. There is no need for our people living in Kompong Speu or Sihanoukville to go to Pursat or Kompong Chhnang via the capital of Phnom Penh anymore.

Rapid Developments Miscalculated

We need to widen the National Road 51 that links National Road 5 and National Road 4. We also have to build or widen a certain number of roads inside so that our travelers could get out of the city through to other main links, for example the road of Tumnub Kob Srov. As I have mentioned a few now, we have different type of needs to address. We have brought life for the people after the liberation in 1979 and brought about development stage after stage. It was not easy to estimate hardships and development. Even in 1990s, the Japanese too miscalculated. Why do I say so?

I say so because as we can see the Japanese rebuilt us the Jroy Jangva bridge and built the National Road 6A with only 7 meters width. Now we had to enlarge the width to 21 meters and four lanes. However, when they built the National Road 1, the Japanese made sure it is wide. They build nice big bridge at Neak Loeung too. We also made a wrong calculation on our side with regard to the airport. We could not foresee the growth at this scale. Now our airport area could not expand because of people’s provisional settlements have turned into permanent ones. They demand ransom for moving out, not reasonably small but big ones. They even wrote SOS on the roofs for the US President’s attention while coming for the Summit in Phnom Penh.

Well we have had some miscalculations. As we have come to this state of being, we have to resort to building overpasses and underpasses at Kbal Thnal, Monk Hospital junction, Stoeng Meanjei and this one the Techno over and underpasses. More will come along. It is just a matter of figuring out where to build first. In 35 years, the number of population has grown to nearly ten millions. In 1979, our population was about five million after the liberation. Now we have some 15 millions. When I first conducted a visit to Laos, I read their statistics, they had also about 5 millions and they now have between six and seven millions only. Our population growth has been far higher.

Municipal Effort to Expand Infrastructures

I am aware that we have closed traffics for this celebration. I would not take much of your time to talk but to express my sincere thank to ownership, management and initiative put out one after the other by the Municipality of Phnom Penh in close cooperation with OCIC company that built us three overpasses and underpasses already. I appreciate the fact that the Municipality has taken the path of using palm leaves to pack palm sugar or in other word to use money obtained from developing the capital to invest further in expanding infrastructures. According to the architectural plan, the construction of the Techno overpasses and underpasses will be ready in 16 months and will spend over 14 millions USD.

I am asking for understanding from people living near and around the construction site for the period of 16 months ahead. Accessing through this area, which used to be difficult, will be even more difficult for the time of the construction. As we are striving to deal with the existing exploding number of means of transports, we will also have new number coming. There is one issue also relating to what we have thought in advance. It was the issue of right hand-drive vehicles. In 2004/5 I talked to Deputy Prime Minister HE Sar Kheng on the issue and recommended two measures – to prevent from bringing in new cars and to legalize those in traffics by requiring owners to pay tax for the vehicles and to issue them number plates. We now have less number of right hand-drive vehicles. We allow right hand-drive fire extinguishers and ambulances because they are donations.

Yesterday, HE Pa So Cheatvong and Madame as well as officials of the Municipality of Phnom Penh celebrated the Brahman ritual requesting permission from the spirits who control this area to undergo safely and successfully the construction. In our country, Brahmanism and Buddhism intertwine in this kind of tradition. Cambodia continues to hold three religions together – Buddhism, Brahmanism and spiritualism. I would on this very moment pray to the spirits, deity of land, deity of forest and of air for the safety and success of this project.

I stayed in the pagoda of Neakvorn as a young boy. The monk’s home where I stayed in those days was on fire and I did not know why. Maybe someone burnt it down for me to build a new one. When I lived there, there were so many mosquitoes. There were to big trees whose leaves felt all over the place. I had to clean it while reading and cooking rice soup. When the monk woke up and saw the leaves all over the place, he took it that nobody clears it, two whips I received. That is life of student of the monk. It was because the monk was so strict on me that I had come this far, perhaps.

We are now in the first day of Phjum Ben. For this traditionally Buddhist ceremony, we will offer alms to Buddhist monks for fifteen days. Mr. Pich Sokha, who already passed away, left us his poem recitation. There was a paragraph that warns people from taking too much alcohol, which cause many deaths and injuries. I am also calling on young boys not to infringe upon young girls when going to pagoda before daybreak to give out alms (boh bay ben) to the soles of the deaths at the Buddhist temple.

Voting to Remove Prime Minister

I hope that during the Phjum Ben ceremony there will not be exchange of fire because we already declare a ceasefire in the National Assembly. There have been some shots though in Kompot, Takeo and Siem Reap. I am keeping an eye on HE Sam Rainsy, who declared the ceasefire in the National Assembly. I hope both sides will forbid own soldiers, especially in the period of the Phjum Ben ceremony, from scolding other people wherever he went. When other people return the favor, there would be more problems. Wherever he went, the person talked about voting to remove the Prime Minister. Why do we not think of voting to remove the Vice President of the National Assembly, in return, on the ground that being a person who scold other, the person is not fit for the job of Vice President of the National Assembly.

That is a reason for us to seek a vote to remove the candidacy. It has not been long yet (after being elected to the job) the person resorted to conflict building. I must make it clear that the artillery ceases to fore but it is not like a ceasefire like in Ukraine where there are no monitors. I asked the Buddhist monks and Cambodian people to take note of the words by HE Sam Rainsy in the National Assembly. I just want to remind him from this speech and I am asking the person to act reasonably. We have declared to work together. Before anything else happens, the person talked about removing the Prime Minister or Ministers. Why do we wait for him to do that?