January’s crackdown on riverside restaurants and shops crowding sidewalks is likely to extend to the rest of Phnom Penh soon, city officials say, though confusion remains regarding how much of the walkways can be used by businesses.
Daun Penh District Governor Sok Sambath said the city is focusing on emptying busy sidewalks for now, which is why Sisowath Quay stands in such stark contrast to the rest of the capital.
“The first step is to crack down on the main streets, and then we will continue on to the smaller streets,” he said Tuesday before declining further comment and hanging up his phone.
Kong Rith, the Phsar Kandal I commune chief who signed a letter delivered to some riverside businesses ordering them off the sidewalk last month, said Sisowath Quay and other busy streets were a priority for city officials because foot traffic on city streets contributes to traffic congestion.
“The public cannot walk on the sidewalk to do exercise, and sometimes the customers of vendors park motorbikes on the street and can cause accidents,” he said by telephone Wednesday.
Kong Rith also said he was following orders from City Hall when he sent a letter to business owners telling them they were “strictly prohibited” from using the walkways and telling them to clear the sidewalks immediately. Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Pa Socheatvong said last week that businesses were allowed to use up to one-third of the sidewalk, but many owners say they were given no such notice.
“If City Hall gives permission to business people to use one-third of the sidewalk, we would arrange it for them, but City Hall has not informed us” of such a rule, Kong Rith said.
Shop owners along the riverside have complained about losing as much as half their business since being booted from the sidewalks in mid-January, but many refuse to speak in detail, saying they fear retaliation by local police.
Away from Sisowath Quay, business owners say they either have not been notified of any sidewalk clearance, or have been but ignored the order because it was not being enforced.
And Ly Sokhon, chief of Daun Penh district’s Phsar Chas commune, said in an interview that municipality officials began forcing businesses from the sidewalks three or four months ago, but acknowledged that vendors on some small streets were still ignoring the order.
“Basically, we don’t allow them to sell on the sidewalk, but we do not crack down on sellers who sell” only part of the way out onto the walkway, he said.
The owner of a small shop in Daun Penh district said she had been told three or four months ago to move her goods at least one meter away from the end of the sidewalk—“preferably” further, she said the police told her—but reverted to using the entire walkway when neighboring businesses ignored the command.
“When I first got the letter, I followed the authority’s order, but then I stopped because other sellers were still selling on the sidewalk and the authorities did not crack down,” said the shop owner, who did not give her name.
“I did not move back to disobey the government rule, but it was affecting my business,” she said, adding that she was losing customers to other shops that ignored the order.