Phnom Penh, 05 May 2013: This event (Touring Phnom Penh by bicycle or cyclo with the European Union) was organized by the European Delegation to the Kingdom of Cambodia and the Khmer Youth Association. The motto is “greener, safer and better”. The aim is mainly to raise awareness of cycling in the city and bringing EU to the attention of Cambodian people. It attracts hundreds of cyclists to join this wonderful awareness raising tour. It was led by the EU Ambassador , Mr. Jean-Francois Cautain and his spouse, officials of the embassies of European countries, and many, many (mainly young) Cambodians. The announcement was shared by facebook users and I was delighted to join and have set my schedule accordingly.
The registration started since very early morning and the trip was kicked off by the EU Ambassador at 7:30am. The group was led by two police motorcades with the support of other police on duties along the way. It was a pleasant morning, very sunny, but not that hot. I have met some friends who come to join as well. The trip passed by the representation of Spain, the embassy of Bulgaria, Germany, Denmark, United Kingdom and France. The final goal is the compound of the Royal University of Phnom Penh, with 15 minutes stops over at the UK Embassy.
My impression of the tour:
- Many participants came to join the tour, more than I have expected. About 5% are foreigners;
- We have fun riding along part of the streets keeping free for us;
- We have opportunities to help raising awareness to our countrymen, concerning riding bicycle in city;
- EU Quiz was distributed for participants to answer;
- It was a short trip, but meaningful endeavor and it should be continued on regular basis;
- The city planners need to think and develop walking and cycling paths in the future.
Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia, was founded more than 700 years ago. It has now around 2 million inhabitants and has more than 700 km². Between 1941 and 1970 Phnom Penh was governed by Nhek Tiulong (father of Tiulong Saumura, MP of the Sam Rainsy Party and Sam Rainsy’s wife), Tep Phan, Un Tromuch and Mr. Y Tuy. In the sixties, Phnom Penh was a “Pearl of Asia” or “little Paris” and was leading in Southeast Asia in term of city planning and modern architecture.
Between 1970-1975 the city was led by Mr. Ung Heam, Chhay Kim Hong and Mr. Hu Hang Sin. During the Khmer Rouge regime, April 1975 January 1979, there was no governor since Phnom Penh became “ghost city”. All 2 million inhabitants that time were forced to leave the city for the countryside within few days and only few thousands of army and Khmer Rouge cadres were allowed to live in the city. Few embassies were allowed to open, among them; the embassies of Vietnam, Laos, China, Rumania and Yugoslavia. After the fall of the regime on January 7, 1979; people were allowed to come back and resided in the city. Since then, we could observe many development projects sprung up and the city is struggling its way to become the mega city again.
From 1979 till now, Phnom Penh was led by Mr. Khang Sarin (1979-1980), Mr. Chan Ven (1980-1982), Mr. Keo Chenda (1982-1985), Mr. Thong Khon (1985-1990), Mr. Hok Lundi (1990-1992), Mr. Sim Ka (1992-1993), Mr. Chhim Seakleng (1993-1998), Mr. Chea Sophara (1998-2003), Mr. Kep Chuktema (2003-2013) and Mr. Pa Socheatavong (Since 3 May 2013). Mr. Kep Chuktema has governed Phnom Penh for more than ten years and is the longest-serving governor since 1941 (information provided by Reaksmey Kampuchea, 03.05.13).
After gaining independence in 1965, Lee Kuan Yew, founder and PM of Singapore, spent two months in Phnom Penh with then Prince Norodom sihanouk. He praised the city beauty and city planning under Sihanouk and would like to learn from it and develop Singapore after the role model of Phnom Penh. After decades of war, political upheaval and destruction, we do need now to learn from Singapore.
During the preparation of the upcoming parliamentary elections 2013, the fifth since 1993, there are debates and controversial opinions in the public and among politicians, political parties, NEC and even donors communities. Opposition demands delay of the electoral process while NEC praises its own efforts to organize elections and sees the decrease of technical and funding support from outsiders as a victory…Two articles below would give you some more information concerning national elections in Cambodia in 2013. Enjoy reading it and make your own opinion/ judgement!
In my opinion, what is good so far is that there was a peaceful demonstration of the oppositions on 24.04.13 at “Freedom Park”, NEC agreed to come and picked up the petition of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), an official statement of the NEC related to CNRP’s demands was released on 26.04.13, no elections related violence was recorded and politicians are increasingly debating on policies and not just personal attacks. However, the elections will be “relatively free, but the least fair and far from acceptable international standard” as we all know in advance. Cambodians deserve a true democratic election and not just “allowed opposition and allowed democracy”.
It is good that more and more people living in Phnom Penh turning to exercise to keep them healthy. Health is the most important gift on earth we could have. Imagine, you have million of dollars and you are lying on the bed with poor health? Unfortunately, there are not so many open spaces and big gardens for people using for recreation. We have Beoung Kak Lake in the middle of the city which would be a wonderful lake if preserved properly. It was a wonderful lake until it was neglected after 1992, polluted and finally filled in with sand few years ago. I do hope that the Phnom Penh Municipality will do more for its own people by constructing more sport complexes, more gardens, more parks and planting more trees; instead of just building ugly concrete jungles.
For a big city like Phnom Penh (1.5-2 million inhabitants), we do need more open space for people to relax and retrieve their energy after hard works. In Berlin, a city of 3.5 million inhabitants, they have a big park and spacious gardens in the middle of the city. Lakes and rivers are preserved for the great benefits of its people. In Munich (1.5 million), the famous English garden is very popular, especially during spring, summer and autumn. In Cologne (1 million), a big lake in the middle of the city is a real diamond. It is used for recreation and makes Cologne more beautiful. I love the city planning masters of those cities. They are not thinking just of money in the short-term, but well-being of their people in the longer term.
I am not very keen in writing this article, but it needs all our attention to be careful. In the first three months of 2013, there was fatal traffic accidents recorded on the Cambodian roads. According to road safety authority following record has been released:
- 1,163 cases happened, almost 23 accidents/day
- 540 people died, exactly 6 people died in the last 90 days between January 1 to March 31, 2013
- 2, 897 persons injured, about 32 persons/day
- 1,205 motorbikes damaged, around 13 bikes/day
- 478 cars damaged, about 5 cars/day
- 157 trucks and 190 other vehicles damaged
As reasons for those accidents, following flaws were identified:
- 45% over speeding
- 15% not respecting priority of other road users
- 13% drunk driving
- 10% dangerous taking over
- 6% not respecting right hand lane
- 5% turning without proper assessment
- 6% including vehicle’s technical problem, road conditions, overloading etc (Koh Santipheap Daily, 04.04.13)
So what could we do to help solving the problem and avoiding it from happening. It is alarming since road accident is number one killer in this country. It caused PM to announce the road safety campaign: “Today and tomorrow, there will be no traffic accident”. It is good, but certainly not enough to cope with the problem. Big awareness campaigns in schools, in mass media and strong traffic law enforcement could help to ease the situation. High ranking officials, powerful and rich people should act as role model, not like “road gangster” as some of them are now.
One other major problem is the issuing the driving licenses and corrupt practices involved. Just as an example: I took my driving class in 1996. At that time I did need to pay U$55 for the driving lessons and practices. The course was mainly focused on how to drive rather than basic traffic rules. Basic rules were offered on Sunday morning, but it was not enough. Luckily, I have one driving lesson book from Germany and I educated myself with the book. Before the final exam, the driving teacher asked me if I pay U$10 more, I did not need to go to exam and I will get my driving license immediately. But, I did go to exam, not because I did not have U$10 to pay for it; but because I wanted to see how the exam looks like. It was easy for me since I have learned all lessons by myself. But, I observed that other students who could not answer the quiz, they just paid some money, then people overseeing the exam could give them the right answer, on the spot. After going through all the process by myself, I did not wonder why people are driving so crazy on our roads. They just did not know how to drive properly, except by all means: FORWARD.
I heard that the corrupt practice is still more or less the same; just the price for driving lessons is getting higher. Now, people need to pay U$180-190 for the driving class. But, there is possibility to get the driving permission card without even going to a driving school. You can just buy it. Everything is possible in the Kingdom of Wonder. In Germany, one should pay between 2,000-3,000 Euros to learn driving and pass the hardest test to get the license.
It is a success story of ACLEDA bank. I happened to meet Mr. In Channy, founder and CEO of ACLEDA, for the first time in 1996 in his small and narrow office south of Tuol Tumpung market, when ACLEDA was still an NGO providing credits and basic trainings to small borrowers. He was then young and thin. We met him to learn more about his NGO’s work and its beneficiaries. I have since then followed up success stories of ACLEDA when it developed itself to Micro Finance Institution (MFI), later a specialized bank and then a commercial bank. I have read a great deal of what has been written about ACLEDA. Since then, I have met Mr. In Channy from time to time during official receptions, conferences or other gatherings. He is soft-spoken and is a very nice guy to talk to. I openly admire his achievement and great contribution to the financial sector in Cambodia, especially during a reception at the German Embassy and recently at the airport when he was on his way to Myanmar in 2012.
By December 31, 2012; ACLEDA has around 238 branches across Cambodia and employs more than 7,000 employee, with total assets reached U$ 1,982,742,950 (PPP, 08.04.13). In Laos, the bank has opened few years ago the first office and now has 31 branches and is reaching north towards China. It develops itself from a micro-credit project in 1991 to the biggest bank in Cambodia. It has recently opened first MFI office in Yangon. It is transparent, well-managed and is one of the first banks, which publishes balance sheets and income statements regularly in local newspapers. Some other banks are reluctant to do so. It is also well-known for its principle of “zero tolerance” to corruption.