About 400 O’Russei Market vendors Sunday took their plea for rent relief to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s doorstep in Phnom Penh. All they won for sure is another meeting.
After gathering for nearly two hours, the group broke up when eight representatives of the protesters were allowed to meet with Hun Sen’s representatives. Later in the day, Om Yentieng, senior adviser to Hun Sen, and Phnom Penh deputy chief of cabinet Sok Leakna spoke with the protesters. Sok Leakna said the municipality’s position was unchanged.
“I only come here to listen to the vendors, and ask them to understand, so that business can go on,” said Om Yentieng. “But the vendors always take a stand.”
Vendors have been arguing with the administration of Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara for several weeks over leases for the soon-to-be reopened renovated market. The municipality has set booth rates at $1,900 to $3,300 for a 20-year lease, with the money to be paid within five years. The O’Russei vendors say they would pay the rent within five years if it was halved. Otherwise, they say they want 15 years to pay, similar to the agreements vendors have at the nearby Olympic Market.
“If they take the whole payment in advance, I don’t know how to purchase goods to sell at the stall,” said O’Russei vendor Chan Muy as she stood near Independence Monument. “I only have a small amount of money to buy goods on my behalf.
“I don’t understand Cambodian leaders. They are always obstinate. They never accept people’s ideas and proposals. They think they are too clever and smart.” She said developed countries at least respect people’s ideas, even if they do not follow through on all of them.
O’Russei vendors also are complaining about the new accommodations, despite a recent concession by the municipality that sellers of heavy items would be allowed to set up on the ground floor when the market reopens.
“The booths at the Olympic market are bigger,” said vendor Kuy Meng. “Our booths are too small to hang goods. [The municipal government] does not care about the health of the vendors. They only think about the money in their own pockets.”
Om Yentieng said he would meet with vendors again soon. “We must put water on the tree, and that is how we will get fruit,” he said of the discussions.