Tolling Operations Stop on National Road 4

A government spokesman on Thursday confirmed that the AZ Group of Companies has ended its toll operations along National Road 4, after Prime Minister Hun Sen announced on Wednesday that he was abruptly canceling the well-connected company’s long-standing contract.

“The company stopped operations at about 10 p.m. last night,” said Nou Rattanak, a spokesman for the Ministry of Public Works and Transport. “Now, there is no more charging; we will manage the inventory that the company owned —the road, tolls, equipment like computers and buildings.”

Mr. Rattanak said the contract had yet to be officially terminated and that a committee would be established by the ministries of transport and finance to look into the compensation process for the AZ Group.

“Regarding the compensation, it would depend on an investigation committee that will look into the contract and discuss official procedures to terminate the contract.”

The AZ Group was founded in 1993 by Ing Bun Hoaw, a former CPP secretary of state at the Transport Ministry, and is overseen by his wife, Heng Sokha. The company began collecting tolls on National Road 4 in 2002, after receiving the contract the year before.

At the time, National Assembly President Heng Samrin and opposition lawmaker Son Chhay jointly protested the contract, saying it had been obtained without a transparent bidding process. They also questioned the practice of awarding a toll concession for a road that had been paid for by a donor, in this case the U.S., though the contract went forward.

The company operated four toll booths along the 210-km road linking Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville, charging 45,000 riel (about $11.10) for larger vehicles, such as buses and trucks, for a complete journey, and 11,200 riel (about $2.80) for cars.

On Wednesday, Mr. Hun Sen explained that he had ordered AZ to stop charging fees on the road earlier this month, but that the company did not comply.

The cancellation is the second such autonomous order handed down in less than a month. In December, the prime minister canceled the contract of Tollway, which had spent $10.5 million renovating Veng Sreng Boulevard as part of an agreement to collect tolls.

Ou Virak, head of the local Future Forum think tank, said he thought such moves were par for the course.

“The government has canceled and adapted contracts in the past, so it shouldn’t really change investor confidence in the country,” he said. “The point is that investors shouldn’t really have confidence in the first place.”

Mr. Virak added that AZ was unlikely to be in a position to launch a complaint because it had obtained the road license opaquely.

“It did not get the contract in a legitimate way; there was no transparency, no bidding—so any complaint would not make sense.”

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