The day after the public release of a letter by Prime Minister Hun Sen defending the AZ company’s contract to maintain National Route 4 in exchange for toll fees, criticism of the contract continued.
The deputy governor of Sihanoukville province said Tuesday that the new tolls may have contributed to a 30-percent decline in tourism in recent months.
“I heard that people don’t want to pay toll road fees along National Route 4,” First Deputy Governor Sboang Sarath said Tuesday. He added that only 50 percent of hotel rooms have been booked in the beach resort town.
Nuth Nin Doeurn, Tourism Ministry secretary of state, rejected the idea that tolls have affected tourism.
“Foreign tourists do not mind to pay the taxi since the taxis already add in the toll road fees to the price,” he said.
Kek Galabru, founder of the rights group Licadho, which has aided 92 families under eviction threat due to renovations of National Route 4, said Tuesday that she was “very disturbed” by the prime minister’s letter.
“I was told by the minister of Public Works and Transportation that AZ’s contract specified only that they were to maintain the road, not that they should enlarge it,” she said. “When the prime minister writes that 200 km of enlargement are complete, this means that AZ has nearly completed an enlargement without permission.”
Kek Galabru also rejected the prime minister’s claim in the letter that the families had settled near the road illegally.
“The 92 families showed me many land titles,” she said. “They were asked to destroy their homes. The government should compensate them.”
Kim Than, a representative of the families facing eviction in Kandal province’s Ang Snuol district, said Tuesday that there has never been any negotiations about compensation for their removal by the AZ company.
“We have lived along the road since 1979,” he said. “And we have had land titles issued by district authorities in 1990. We are not squatters…. We are not opposing the country’s development, but please the government should pay reasonable compensation to us so that we can buy pieces of land for houses.”
“Article Five of the 2001 Land Law says that land will not be appropriated without compensation, but this is not followed,” Kek Galabru said.
Meanwhile, opposition parliamentarian Son Chhay said Tuesday that despite the controversy over the AZ contract, another company is in negotiations to operate tolls on National Route 5 and National Route 6 in exchange for maintaining the roads.
“We have heard that Samart has been given the green light by the prime minister to negotiate with the Ministry of Public Works,” Son Chhay said.
Minister of Public Works and Transportation Sun Chanthol could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Uk Chan, secretary of state for the ministry, said he did not know about any negotiations with Samart, which currently operates a mobile telephone service and has the concession to operate air traffic control at Phnom Penh International airport.
Samart Communication CEO Somchai Lertwiset-Theerakul said he only deals with the corporation’s mobile phone business.
Hun Sen’s March 16 letter to Son Chhay defended AZ’s contract, saying that the government could not afford to maintain the road and AZ has gone into debt repairing it, so it has the right to collect fees.
Son Chhay responded saying the key point the prime minister failed to address was the secrecy surrounding the concession contracts.
“We want the government to release the AZ contract and conduct a survey of the needs and amount of tolls being collected along National Route 4,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Pin Sisovann and Van Roeun)