Tempers flared at the National Assembly September 7 as lawmakers from the ruling CPP and the SRP sparred during the ongoing debate over a law concerning the framework by which the government can lease state-owned infrastructure properties.
Under the 43-article draft law, the government can grant private companies up to 30-year leases to properties such as museums, utilities, health centers and roads following a public bidding process.
SRP President Sam Rainsy addressed the floor during the debate announcing that the SRP would not vote in favor of the law, which he called “useless.”
“I would like to announce that the Sam Rainsy Party cannot support this draft law at all, because it…will lead to injustice and affect the living conditions of the people,” he said.
Sam Rainsy chastised the government for introducing this legislation after so many years of selling or leasing state properties without any set protocol in place.
“Why has the National Assembly just started debate on the concession draft law today?” he said. “The government has granted too many concession projects already to private companies.”
Sam Rainsy said that the SRP could not vote in favor of the law unless a provision was added requiring discussions with villagers that might be affected by a concession, rattling off a laundry list of recent evictions as evidence of the possible effect such concessions might have.
“People start to worry when they hear there is a plan for government development,” he said. “I demand that this law state a mechanism for consulting with people before granting any concession project,” he added.
Sam Rainsy’s remarks sparked ire from CPP lawmakers and Finance Minister Keat Chhon, who was on hand to defend the legislation for the government.
Keat Chhon accused Sam Rainsy of having a poor understanding of the law and using the Assembly floor as a platform to campaign for next year’s national election.
The draft law calls for the formation of a committee to handle the concerns of those affected by a concession, Keat Chhon said, and contains provisions for compensation.
“[Sam Rainsy] is not focusing on the concession draft law—his aim is the July 27, 2008, election,” he said. “If His Excellency could give a little smile, we could continue debating. Please consider a change of view.”
Assembly First Vice President Nguon Nhel then rushed to the defense of his party and accused Sam Rainsy of looking down on the millions of voters that support the CPP.
“This is the sound of looking down on the four million people who voted CPP,” he shouted at the SRP president. “Is it acceptable for [the SRP] to claim that the CPP looks down on the people? If the CPP did so, nobody would vote for the CPP.”
Nguon Nhel’s remarks sparked SRP lawmaker Son Chhay to come to Sam Rainsy defense saying that he had never seen the Assembly president or vice president, who he said should remain independent during a debate, actively defend a political party.
Assembly President Heng Samrin responded that Sam Rainsy had been veering into topics outside the draft law at hand and was wrong to do so. “Here is not a place to engage in an election campaign,” he said.
Despite the dissent of SRP lawmakers, most of whom walked out of the session early, chapters two and three of the six-chapter draft law passed easily. The debate is scheduled to continue September 10.