Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has questioned the quality of roads built by Chinese companies under soft loans provided by Beijing, saying a highway completed just four years ago has already begun to break down.
Hun Sen on Tuesday told Chinese firm Shanghai Construction (Group) General Co. to pay attention to quality when expanding National Road 5, citing the now-crumbling National Road 7 it had constructed in 2008.
National Road 5 connects the capital Phnom Penh with Poipet at the Thai border crossing and is aimed, officials say, at boosting economic opportunities to people living along the highway.
“Based on experience, the Shanghai Group must experiment [with different construction methods] from the building of National Road 7,” he said, speaking in front of around 500 villagers at a groundbreaking ceremony for the expansion on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.
“It didn’t last long—problems must have developed under the road. The company must use different techniques for road construction,” said Hun Sen, who relies heavily on aid from China, Cambodia’s top ally.
Hun Sen also ordered Cambodia’s Ministry of Public Works and Ministry of Finance to work with Chinese companies to ensure better quality of the road projects.
Expansion of the 407 kilometer (253 mile) National Road 5 will cost U.S. $56 million—to be funded through a loan package of U.S. $400 million signed by Hun Sen and Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping in December 2009.
Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia Pan Guangxue, who attended Tuesday’s groundbreaking ceremony, called National Road 5 “an economic lifeline” between Cambodia and Thailand.
“This road is very important for tourism, culture, and the economy,” he said.
“We hope that the Shanghai Group, which will be constructing the road, will work closely with local residents [to ensure they are happy with the project].”
Cambodian officials have not discussed the issue of compensating villagers who will be affected by the road construction.
The 509 kilometer (316 mile) National Road 7 runs from Skuon in Kampong Cham province through Kratie province and north to Trapeang Kriel in Stung Treng province, where it meets the international border checkpoint with Laos.
Part of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Highway Network, the road was partly rebuilt by the Shanghai Group through a U.S. $76 million interest-free loan from the Chinese government and inaugurated in April 2008. The remaining U.S. $4 million was supplied by the Cambodian government.
Critics in Cambodia have often slammed Chinese companies for building poor infrastructure in the country and have pointed to National Road 7 as an example of a mismanaged project.
Opposition Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Yim Sovann welcomed Hun Sen’s statement, adding that poor-quality construction is largely the result of rampant graft.
“This is all about corruption. We need to have measures in place ahead of the awarding of contracts,” he said, calling on the government to better regulate the bidding process for construction projects.
Previous reports have said that some Chinese companies instructed Cambodian laborers to use less concrete during road construction, with the remainder of the concrete then sold on the black market for profits.
Reported by Sok Serey for RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.