Prime Minister Hun Sen has ordered provincial administrators to take care of public works projects, most of which now bear his name.
“Whenever the bridge is finished, the local authorities must be responsible for it,” Hun Sen said at a bridge inauguration in Kratie province last week.
“We will take the bridge back if [the local authorities] do not need it,” he said.
Hun Sen’s government has constructed some 400 bridges in the last three years, according to Uk Chan, an undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Public Works.
But the practice of naming public works projects after Hun Sen, then claiming them as CPP-built, has drawn criticism from members of civil society, who say it is a strategy of political self-promotion.
“I think Prime Minister Hun Sen has no will to develop the country. He constructs this infrastructure because he wants to gain political benefit, for the elections,” said former Funcinpec senator Kem Sokha, director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights .
“In democratic countries, you never see a prime minister put his name on such an achievement, not while he is alive,” he said.
Hun Sen supporters say it is not the premier who insists on the bridges having his name, but instead it is a demand of the villagers that use and benefit from them. The premier and the CPP pride themselves on improving the country’s infrastructure and helping people in the countryside.
“After the construction of a bridge is finished, many people ask to have it named after Prime Minister Hun Sen,” said Hun Sen adviser Prack Phally.
Funding for the bridges’ construction comes mostly from donor countries and the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, said Uk Chan.
He said the ministry assists in planning where to put the bridge, but that design and supervision of construction falls under the authority of the Defense Ministry’s Engineering Department.
Much of the steel comes from Australia and China, he said. China donates some 1,000 to 1,500 cubic meters of steel annually to Hun Sen’s government, he said.
Despite all the different parties involved in a bridge’s construction, villagers demand that it bear Hun Sen’s name, Uk Chan said.
“This is not wrong, because the people want him to put his name on the bridge,” he said.
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith also defended the practice, suggesting it encouraged investment in public works projects.
“When a lot of politicians put their names on their bridges, then the people will get a lot of bridges,” he said. Besides, he added, “It is normal for politicians to want to gain political interest.”