New police units assigned at night to Sisowath Quay, armed with brooms and rules to keep order, have disturbed more than litter in the last two months, several bar and restaurant owners said this week.
Confiscating motorcycles and ordering restaurants to move tables back from the riverfront sidewalk, the police officers say their two-month-old operation is intended to leave more space for pedestrians and to keep the streets clean.
But riverfront business owners allege that the new rules are not uniformly enforced-with luxury SUVs still allowed to park on the pavement-and the officers are creating a poor impression for foreign tourists by shouting their demands to move tables, motorcycles and harmless foodcarts.
“It makes it look like a bullyish country,” said one bar owner, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
He said the new rules have forced some businesses to move back their tables from the sidewalk or reduce the available seating for customers. Sometimes, bizarrely, police also order motorbikes parked on the street to move and park on the sidewalk. “It shows the lack of a plan,” the bar owner said.
One restaurant owner said that the new rules take away one of the great charms and attractions of Sisowath Quay-eating outside with a view of the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers.
Seng Leng, Chey Chumneah commune chief, said two groups of officers are on duty from about 5:30 pm to 10 pm informing restaurants of the rules and cleaning the sidewalk and street.
“We just want to clean, but not to prohibit selling,” Seng Leng said. “Some of the pubs, restaurants and clubs do not obey the new rule, especially the foreign clubs,” he said.
The rules require two thirds of space on the sidewalk to be clear for pedestrians from Wat Ounalom to Chaktomuk Conference Center, officials said.
Phnom Penh Municipal Police Chief Touch Naruth said police are using their current methods because previous softer methods didn’t work.
“I ordered police to inform them many times, they just think about their business interest. They did not care about public interest,” he said.
Foot traffic is particularly heavy on Sisowath Quay, and people need to be able to walk on the sidewalk in safety, Touch Naruth said.
One restaurant manager complained that a well-known Khmer eatery on the quay allows their customers’ SUVs to block all but a half-meter of the sidewalk.
“[Police] say its OK to park SUVs on the sidewalk but not okay to have two extra tables that still leave two meters for walking,” said the manager, who attributed that contradiction to the restaurant’s government ties.
Touch Naruth drew a distinction between confiscating motorbikes and foodcarts while allowing SUVs on the sidewalk. “Land Cruisers may just park for a short time, not forever,” he said. “If they keep parking longer hours, our police will take them away,” he said.
One street vendor, who sells skewered meat on the west side of Sisowath Quay, said police confiscated her foodcart for a week and demanded $20 for its return. Eventually she paid $5 and was told that next time police would take it for good, she said.
She also questioned why she couldn’t keep her cart on the street, but restaurants could have tables on the sidewalk.
“Why can’t the poor vendors put one table for doing business, while the restaurants and big shops can?” she asked.
(Additional reporting by Kay Kimsong)