The Phnom Penh Port Authority will grant operating licenses to four privately built Mekong River ports south of Phnom Penh that had been operating without permission, a port official said.
The four ports, owned by logging companies Kingwood Industry, Samling International, Pheapimex Fu Chan and Everbright, were built on private land but use equipment and labor from the authority, said Hei Bavy, director general of the port authority.
They paid the same fees as ships coming into the capital’s port, but because of flooding and other transportation difficulties needed their own ports, he said.
Opposition parliamentarian Son Chhay criticized the decision, saying it would discourage monitoring of the goods moving through the private ports.
“The idea of creating private ports…is an idea of corruption,” said Son Chhay, a Sam Rainsy member and head of the National Assembly’s committee for public works, commerce and telecommunications. Allowing the ports to run independently would “encourage logging companies to cut illegal trees and money will not go to the state,” he said.
Furthermore, he said, the Phnom Penh official port is big enough to handle the ships coming from the four companies.
Officials from Samling and Everbright declined comment. Officials from the other two companies could not be reached.
However, Hei Bavy said the licensing was a good way to keep track of the activities of the companies, which still pay for equipment, manning, taxes, channel fees and docking fees, he said.
Private ports are used throughout Vietnam already, he said.
“I noticed that along the Mekong River in Vietnam there are many ports owned by private investors which the government allowed,” he said. “Now Cambodia is able to practice that too.”
The four companies each requested permission to build temporary ports in 1998 and 1999, Hei Bavy said. Each port is managed and equipped by the Port Authority, which charges the companies between $4,000 and $5,000 per ship to load or unload.
The largest number of shipments comes from Pheapimex which has eight to nine per month, said Ham Vuthny, commerce officer for the authority.
Without the logging companies, the port only sees an average of two ships per month, for a total of $10,000 per month coming to the port, Ham Vuthny said.
If the companies were not granted licenses, they could move to Sihanoukville, costing the authority $70,000 to $150,000 per month in lost revenue.
The authority pays its 600 workers between $20 and $40 per month. However, the authority has announced it plans to lay off about 150 workers.
Hei Bavy said the workers volunteering to quit would be accepted first, and all laid-off workers will be compensated. He did not specify an amount, nor did he say when the lay-offs will begin.
The port will also offer employees an opportunity to hand their jobs over to their children, if they are educated or qualified.
“If current workers think that they might not be able to work, they can hand over their jobs to a son or daughter who just finished classes or has skill certificates,” he said. “They are welcome to exchange.”