In the wake of a municipal decree to clear Phnom Penh’s sidewalks of street vendors by Sept 15, several sidewalk sellers interviewed yesterday expressed resignation and discontent at the new order, but they also pointed out that several prior crackdowns had been haphazardly enforced.
A vendor who has sold rice porridge on Norodom Boulevard since 1998 said that she learned of the impending crackdown on Tuesday—when the municipality began broadcasting announcements on the streets of Daun Penh district—and was concerned about her livelihood.
“If I stop selling, I will have a difficult time since I can’t afford to rent a stall in a market,” said the woman, who requested anonymity for fear of retribution. But she added that city officials have already ordered her off the streets “many times”—each time, she has stopped for a while and then crept back into her position on the sidewalk and started serving porridge again.
Bun Sorya, 46, who has run a small sidewalk restaurant on Street 172 for seven years, spoke spiritedly yesterday of the service she says she provides to the neighborhood’s poor and the monks at nearby Wat Sarawan, who can buy a cheap plate of rice from her for only 500 riel.
“Before, the authorities shut us down for one month and seven days. Then I reopened again,” Ms Sorya recounted of a crackdown in March. “City Hall officials came and said, ‘Why do you sell here?’ I told them I sold here because I need money to support my family. Then maybe they understood that I am old and need money, because they left me alone.”
She added that during the last crackdown, authorities had closed her stall but allowed two others on Street 172 to remain open for no apparent reason.
Kung Sreynet, 40, a sugarcane juice vendor on Street 19 and the primary breadwinner for her family of 11, said that commune officials had told her on Tuesday that she would have to leave her choice spot on the sidewalk opposite a primary school by Sept 15. She said she had survived three similar crackdowns in the seven years she had been selling sugarcane, but she feared that this might be the worst yet.
“I don’t know where I’ll be able to do my business,” she said as she fed stalks of sugarcane into her press. “I understand that they want to arrange the city and that vending on the sidewalk hurts the public order because people can’t walk, but what else can I do?” she asked. “I force my heart to sell here because I have no choice.”
Kong Rith, chief of Phsar Kandal 1 commune in Daun Penh district, said yesterday that commune authorities had every intention of enforcing the order starting Sept 15.
“When the notice expires, we will follow the rules to the letter,” he said, adding that street vendors create congestion in busy parts of town and contribute to traffic accidents.
Kuch Chamroeun, Meanchey district governor, agreed that the rules would be enforced this time around.
“On and after Sept 16, we will use administrative measures,” he said. “According to our principles, we will not allow vendors to sell on the sidewalks.”