Prime Minister Hun Sen used the unveiling of the Stung Meanchey overpass in Phnom Penh Thursday morning to praise his government’s development of the capital and to warn the city’s poor not to take up residence under the new $19-million bridge.
Mr. Hun Sen also used the occasion to remind Municipal Governor Pa Socheatvong of his limited term as the city’s chief executive and called on him to fix congestion on the roads and to work harder to establish public transport before his pending retirement.
Speaking before the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Mr. Hun Sen contrasted the severe traffic congestion of present-day Phnom Penh with the situation he faced upon returning to the city in 1979 with the invading Vietnamese forces who had overthrown the Khmer Rouge.
“When we first began constructing Phnom Penh after we were liberated from the genocidal regime… there were no people living in the houses and there were no people walking the streets, we never heard of traffic accidents killing people,” he said.
“You could even stand on this road for a week because there were no cars traveling on the streets at that time.”
Mr. Hun Sen explained that the often frustrating congestion of the present day, which he said the new Stung Meanchey overpass should help stem, was an inevitable consequence of the new condominiumsand apartments being built rapidly around the city.
But the prime minister also ordered Mr. Socheatvong to develop a garden in the area under the overpass to provide greenery for the capital’s burgeoning population, asking the governor to also ensure that people do not settle on the park and then claim that their land was grabbed.
“Please, give mercy and give a favor and don’t take the underground of the bridge to be homes,” the prime minister said. “Then you use a theory that the winner receives the land and the loser receives money and go to file a complaint to the E.U. community.”
He said that it should be clear to all of the 300 people at Thursday’s inauguration ceremony that no communities are presently living under the overpass.
“We come to inaugurate together, and can see there is no one living down there,” he said, asking officials to make a record of the fact. “You should go to take a photo of this place and keep it for future days. When there are complaints we can show there was nothing.”
Mr. Hun Sen also bemoaned the city’s fledgling bus service, calling on Mr. Socheatvong to work rapidly to expand the service, which currently has one line and is set to gain two more next month.
City Hall has run the buses since April, two months after services began, when the Chinese firm given the operating contract pulled out after being refused tax breaks for its metered-taxi business.
“The private firm came to do bidding. When they won the bidding process, [they] did not do it,” he said. “We always end up the widow.”
“Your Excellency Pa Socheatvong, how old are you now?” Mr. Hun Sen asked. “You’re 57 years old. You have at least three more years to retire, so you must make this a success.”
Reached by phone, Mr. Socheatvong said he would follow Mr. Hun Sen’s wishes and was actively working on improving the service to have eight extra lines in place by sometime next year. But he said the population’s habituation to personal motorbikes and tuk-tuks was hindering the municipality’s efforts to expand the bus service.
“The first problem is that our people are not yet accustomed to this service. But due to the ongoing traffic jams and the growing population, it’s now time for us to have such a public bus,” he said. He added that vendors along the city’s roads were also causing problems.
“We need to have bus stops and the places for people to sit and wait for the buses,” he said. “It’s very difficult right now.”
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