Less than a month after Phnom Penh Tollway began collecting money from commuters using the factory-lined Veng Sreng Boulevard in outer Phnom Penh, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced on Monday that the government would buy out the private firm and, as a New Year’s gift to citizens, stop collecting tolls.
Speaking at a graduation ceremony on Koh Pich island, Mr. Hun Sen said that Tollway’s 30-year contract to manage the road, which it spent $10.5 million constructing, was null and void as of midnight Sunday, and urged factories to use money saved on transportation to raise wages—or at least throw a party for workers.
“It is a sudden decision but I think it is the right decision,” the prime minister said, adding that he had spoken with Phnom Penh governor Pa Socheatvong and Finance Minister Aun Porn Moniroth, who would facilitate the changeover.
“I told [them] to take it back and [we] are willing to pay the builder but the money collecting must stop at midnight [on Sunday],” he said.
The 6.5-km-long industrial boulevard has been widened to 28 meters and was repaved recently to ease the way for lorries that cart garments and footwear out of the hundreds of factories along the road, as well as the hundreds of flatbed trucks that deliver tens of thousands of workers to their posts each day. On December 1, Tollway began to collect tariffs, which were set at between $0.25 and $2.50 depending on the vehicle.
In his speech on Monday, Mr. Hun Sen said that factory managers would now have excess cash that should be used to increase wages or throw a party for staff on Labor Day, which usually sees thousands of workers—in Phnom Penh and at rallies around the world on May 1—gather to call for better working conditions.
“The factories that benefit from this shall save the money to improve livelihoods for their garment workers, or at least save this money to hold a party annually on May 1,” he said.
The prime minister said in a post on his Facebook page on Monday that the decision to take over Tollway’s contract followed complaints from people living along Veng Sreng.
“It is a New Year’s gift to compatriots,” he wrote.
Mr. Hun Sen gave no indication of how much Tollway would be compensated for its lost contract. Tollway could not be reached for comment.
City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche confirmed that the municipality had received the order from the prime minister’s office. He said City Hall would soon create an ad hoc committee composed of representatives from the Finance Ministry, Tollway, and other related institutions “to review the contract so we can evaluate how much we need to pay the company.”
Mr. Hun Sen also said in his speech that he had consulted with the finance minister about the toll booth on National Road 4, which is controlled by former Transportation Ministry Secretary of State Ing Bun Haow and had also angered local residents. However, he said it would be “impossible” to bring it back under state control.