Gov’t in Discussions Over Market Renovations

Government officials are scheduled to meet today in the second day of talks concerning the renovation of Phsar Thmei, Phsar Kandal and Phsar Chas, Phnom Penh Vice Governor Seng Tong said Wednesday.

The meetings come as plans for a $4.5 million grant from the French government earmarked for the renovation of the markets sits unsigned in the Ministry of Finance. But, French officials said, the Cambodian government must meet several conditions before the document is signed.

First, it must create an independent authority that will handle all the finances of Phsar Thmei, including leases and tax collection, said Francois Giovalucchi, director of France’s government aid agency. The government can decide how to set up the authority, he said, but it must have a budget that is separate from the municipality’s budget.

“We are looking for more transparency and better management of the market,” said Bertrand Boisselet, assistant director of the aid agency. “Usually such markets make good revenue. Reve­nues from Phsar Thmei have been very small for the municipality, but not for the people involved.”

The proposed authority’s board of directors would likely include representatives from the municipality, the Finance, Commerce and Interior ministries, and possibly the private sector, Giovalucchi said. He added that the development agency is not requiring an external audit of the authority’s finances, but such an audit could be a condition if more money is granted for future renovations of other markets.

The second condition for the grant is an assurance that the government will finance the construction of roads around Phsar Thmei and new shops inside the market, Giovalucchi said.

Chay Rithysen, deputy director of the municipality’s department of urbanization and construction, said that $1.3 million has been allocated in this year’s budget for the renovation of the markets, but that money has not yet been disbursed.

Giovalucchi was unsure of how much money the government would need to spend since it already paved some of the roads surrounding Phsar Thmei. But he said that the actual amount the government needs to pay may be “much less” than $1.3 million.

Seng Tong said that next week the government will have a better idea of how the authority will take shape.

“We have to clarify some points about the project,” Seng Tong said Wednesday.

If the government meets the conditions and signs the grant quickly, the renovation could commence in about four months, Giovalucchi said. But, he said, it will likely take longer.

Chay Rithysen said he expected the renovation to start by the middle of next year.

The construction projects at Phsar Kandal and Phsar Chas, which are much smaller than the renovation of Phsar Thmei, plan to improve the roads and install a new drainage system in order to reduce flooding around the markets. Boisselet said those markets may be completely renovated in a few years if the renovation of Phsar Thmei goes smoothly.

When Phsar Thmei was inaugurated in 1937, it was hailed as an emblem of modern architecture. Yet lack of maintenance over past war-ridden decades has left the structure in need of an overhaul.

The renovation of Phsar Thmei will take between 18 and 24 months to complete, Giovalucchi said. The plan is to renovate the building in sections.

Though the details of relocating vendors are not final, he said the municipality intends to temporarily move sellers to the former site of T3 prison. The plan is that the renovated Phsar Thmei will keep the same amount of vendors currently at the market, Boisselet said.

Most vendors interviewed on Wednesday wanted the building to be renovated. But they were concerned that they would lose business if they were relocated for more than a few months or might lose their booths after the renovation. None of the vendors have received official information about the renovation plans.

“The renovation is welcome,” said Soun Sopheap, who sells clothes at a Phsar Thmei booth. “But if City Hall wants to move us longer than three months, we will suffer.”

Im Pov, who sells perfume, suggested that the city wait to renovate the market until vendors’ current contracts with the municipality expire in 2008. She also worried that rent would increase dramatically as it did for vendors in Phsar O’Russei, which was renovated in 2000. She said she currently pays about 200,000 riel ($50) for a five-year lease.

“I wonder whether the city can keep my same booth after the renovation is finished,” she said. “I don’t want to lose my corner site.”


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