The construction of a road funded by the Asian Development Bank has come under court scrutiny, after a construction company working on the road alleged it had been given false specifications that, if followed, would have left the road ruined within six months.
A 65-km section of Route 7 beginning 18 km south of Kratie town and continuing to Snuol town was funded by an $11 million ADB loan.
Subcontractor East Toyo Construction Co, Ltd, has filed a lawsuit in Kratie provincial court against the contractor for the project, the China Jilin International Economic and Technical Corporation.
East Toyo representatives allege the specifications provided by China Jilin created embankments on the road that were too steep and would have led to accelerated erosion of the road.
“We stopped construction because we did not want to cheat the Cambodian people,” Kim Jong Ho, president of East Toyo, said at a news conference Monday in Phnom Penh. “If Toyo kept following the China Jilin drawings, the road would have been broken [within] six months.”
A China Jilin representative at the company’s headquarters in Kratie town said he was not authorized to comment on the proceedings, but confirmed construction on the project was continuing. Cao Ming Hong, the China Jilin project manager for the road, was not available for comment, the representative said.
East Toyo is suing China Jilin for $400,000 for work already conducted on 30 km of the road, said attorney David Chanaiwa, who is representing East Toyo. The company says it wants to renegotiate its contract to continue work “under the eyes of the government” and proper inspection by ADB and Snowy Mountains Engineering Corp, the private consultant firm hired by the ADB and the government to monitor their road projects.
If no contract is renegotiated, the company will sue for $1.27 million to cover the costs of labor, and the transport and rental of construction equipment, Chanaiwa said.
Penh Vibol, a provincial court prosecutor in Kratie, confirmed that a case against China Jilin was underway.
“The case is under investigation,” Penh Vibol said. The court is investigating the breach of contract, which is a civil matter, he said.
It is also investigating whether China Jilin falsified the specifications for the road, which would be a criminal offense, Penh Vibol said.
Corruption and graft are common in road projects, said Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian Son Chhay, the former chairman of the public works and transportation committee at the National Assembly.
Complaints of corner-cutting and the use of substandard material often reach his office, he said.
The recent Kratie road allegations underscore a greater problem within the development sector, where international loan institutions like the Asian Development Bank approve a loan, but don’t follow up on the construction, Son Chhay said.
ADB Country Representative Urooj Malik declined Monday to comment on the Route 7 case, saying it was “better left up to the courts.”
The ADB and the Ministry of Public Works and Transport hired Snowy Mountains Engineering Corp to independently inspect rural road projects. That company is partly to blame for the problems on Route 7, Chanaiwa said.
“SMEC is responsible for monitoring the road project and the ADB loan,” he said. “And SMEC did not report whether the construction was right or wrong.”
Ranjit Kanaganayagam, SMEC’s resident engineer in Kratie, said the case was between the two companies, and declined further comment.
Uk Chan, undersecretary of state for the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation, said the government had confidence in the work of China Jilin and SMEC.
“China Jilin has made no mistake,” he said. “China Jilin has been following the ADB, the ministry, and undergone monitoring by international consultant [SMEC]….Everything is under the eye of the international consultant.”
Meanwhile, construction on the road is continuing without East Toyo, Kratie province officials confirmed.
“The project is still going on,” said Kham Pheoun, second deputy governor of Kratie province. He emphasized the road was crucial to the development of his province.
“If we finish this road soon, people can travel easily by car from Phnom Penh to Kratie, and from Kratie to Stung Treng and Ratanakkiri,” he said. “Now my people are transporting products by using boats. It is quite slow.”
At ceremonies this morning, Prime Minister Hun Sen will dedicate the new $56 million bridge crossing the Mekong River at Kompong Cham town. Route 7 will now cross that new bridge and connect in Snuol town with the disputed section of road.