Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Populist vows flow with pledge on water prices

Populist vows flow with pledge on water prices

Prime Minister Hun Sen issued a statement yesterday requesting the Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority to re-evaluate water prices for residents.
Prime Minister Hun Sen issued a statement yesterday requesting the Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority re-evaluate water prices for residents. Facebook

Populist vows flow with pledge on water prices

Doubling down on a populist promise yesterday, Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered Phnom Penh’s water supplier not only to lower its rates, but also to compensate customers who had been charged extra under a new payment scheme introduced in May, saying the higher prices were unfair.

Having first alluded to the rate reduction in a speech to garment workers on Sunday, the premier yesterday in a Facebook post ordered the Ministry of Industry and Handicrafts to work with the Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority (PPWSA) to reinstate the old payment system, recalculate bills paid since it was introduced, and pay back the difference.

In response, the PPWSA – a publicly listed state-run utility company on the Cambodian Securities Exchange – immediately issued a letter vowing to refund the money and apologising to customers.

“We promise not to let such a mistake happen for a second time,” said the letter, which was disseminated via local media.

Though the letter characterised the higher prices as a mistake, PPWSA’s chief of accounting and finance, Ros Kimleang, said the rate hike was instated to boost revenue to pay back some $100 million in loans from development partners taken out to expand services.

“We follow the government plan that, by 2020, Phnom Penh residents need to have enough clean water, and to achieve that we need to invest more in treatment facilities,” he said.

Asked whether the prime minister’s intervention to curb prices would impact the company’s ability to pay the loans or expand its services, Kimleang said he believed the government and Ministry of Industry, which regulates water utilities, would have a plan to “ensure the organisation will sustainably operate in the future”.

The new water rates scheme, approved by Minister of Industry Cham Prasidh, split consumers into categories of consumption, with those at the highest end of the spectrum paying 1,450 riel per cubic metre.

On Sunday, Hun Sen said the maximum price would decrease to 800 riel per cubic metre.

In his post yesterday, the premier said he had received criticism about high prices from people on social media, a similar justification to ones employed for past measures widely considered populist ploys.

In one such move, he scrapped mandatory licensing for all drivers just as the Ministry of Interior was attempting to roll out a stricter Traffic Law, and in another, removed unpopular tolls on roads in contravention of agreements with the companies operating them.

Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker Son Chhay, for his part, said he approved of the decision, which he thought was “in the interests of ordinary people”.

But political analyst Ou Virak, founder of the Future Forum think tank, said such abrupt policy decisions by the premier undermined his ministers, and were designed to secure votes. But, even so, they were far from a surprise, he added.

“It’s a populist policy, but in most democracies around the world, politicians come up with populist policies,” Virak.

“The ministers stand to be always undermined by the prime minister, this has always been the case, he makes a decision and every decision before that is going to be the wrong decision, regardless.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Omicron patients can stay home: PM

    The Ministry of Health has issued a directive on the treatment of people who have tested positive for the highly transmissible Omicron coronavirus variant, following a suggestion from Prime Minister Hun Sen on the night of January 21. The directive permits home quarantine for those who

  • The effects of the USD interest rate hike on Cambodian economy

    Experts weigh in on the effect of a potential interest rate expansion by the US Federal Reserve on a highly dollarised Cambodia Anticipation of the US Federal Reserve’s interest rate hike in March is putting developing economies on edge, a recent blog post by

  • Cambodia’s first ever anime festival kicks off Jan 22 at capital’s F3 centre

    Phnom Penh's first ever Anime Festival will bring together fans, artists, shops and other local businesses with ties to the Japanese animation style for cosplay competitions, online games, pop-up shops and more on January 22, with Friends Futures Factory (F3) hosting. F3 is a project that

  • Hun Sen gets 4th Covid shot, urges compatriots to follow

    Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife Bun Rany on January 14 received their fourth dose of Covid-19 vaccine and called on compatriots to follow suit as the Omicron coronavirus variant continues to spread in the community. This marks the launch of Cambodia's fourth-dose vaccination campaign,

  • Fourth dose Covid booster drive jabs 43K in two days

    In the first two days of the fourth-dose Covid-19 vaccination campaign, more than 43,000 people volunteered to get the jabs, while over 4.6 million people have received a third shot. Health ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine said that fourth-dose vaccinations, which began on January 14 exclusively with the Pfizer

  • Singapore backs Cambodia's efforts on Myanmar

    Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong supports Cambodia in its efforts to seek a solution to the ongoing Myanmar crisis as the chair of ASEAN. Lee expressed his support during a meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen via videoconference on January 14, with the talks focused