Prime Minister Hun Sen said his government intends to widen National Road 4 using its own budget for road construction after waiting for donor funding for the project to materialise for a number of years now with no success.

Hun Sen was speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony on January 3 for a major infrastructure upgrade project on the 148km National Road 48 running from the Sre Ambel roundabout in northern Preah Sihanouk’s Kampong Seila district to Koh Kong province’s Khemarak Phoumin town.

He went on to state that it was not that the government did not want to widen National Road 4 before now but because the road was built with the assistance of the US – when funding dried up for work on the road – the government did not know where to seek aid to continue work on it.

He added that later on the World Bank had signed-off on the road-widening project three years ago, but the bidding process for the construction contracts was split into three packages and they had only completed bidding on one of them while the other two will probably be bid on in 2022, and he hoped it would be done quickly.

“Just the bidding takes one year or two years. It seems like the process is more complicated than is necessary. But what can we do? It has always been like this,” he said.

The prime minister recalled that in a prior speech he made to the UN General Assembly he noted that around 80 per cent of foreign aid given to Cambodia was wasted on bureaucratic middle-men and the recipient only ever got about 20 per cent of it because the procedures for the distribution of it were far too complicated.

For example, he said, even for the construction of a small library [in Cambodia] they had to call in foreigners to design it.

Hun Sen said that his words were not meant to criticise the World Bank, but they often insisted on complicated procedures despite their stated intentions of maximizing transparency.

“[The World Bank] says that the procedures are good if they are transparent. Yes! Transparency is good. But here we are still walking in the mud ... So, sometimes we make our own money and use it instead and do it as fast as we can, like the roads in Sihanoukville,” he said.

Yong Kim Eng, president of the People’s Centre for Development and Peace, said that if the state has the budget to make the improvements on its own that is the better way to do it.

He said the state should spend more money on widening the roads because the roads are important to the nation’s economic life, noting the old Chinese proverb “if you want to get rich, build roads”.

However, he said, when roads are widened it is necessary to address the potential impacts on the people living on both sides of the road so that they will not lose any of their privately owned land without fair compensation from the government.

“If we do not address these impacts, there will be problems, controversies and protests from the people living there and that slows down the process of widening the road. To do it right and avoid delays, the state should deal with these impacts first,” he said.