Crossing Cambodia

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


Just got back from a journey through South Thailand, Malaysia (is it truly Asia?) and Singapore. It means that in the past 18 months Crossing Cambodia has visited most of Southeast Asia (additionally Lao PDR and Vietnam) as well as China. Good for comparison.

So returning after 3 weeks away what strikes Crossing Cambodia the most. It’s not necessarily the road chaos, other countries have that; Bangkok roads look intimidating as do those of Saigon, Hanoi and Kuala Lumpur.

The difference is that it’s obvious Phnom Penh embraces lawlessness. The question one should ask is why? Certainly it is worthwhile for a government to pursue traffic safety, accidents result in economical damage (material and through loss of life). So less accidents is better for economy. Additionally society is benefited (nobody wants to get wounded, nor face expensive bills). But Cambodian government intervention in traffic regulation tends to focus on direct financial incentives (are taxes being paid?; how can we privatize this public road?). The function of traffic police is dubious: postings often discontinued, police failing to halt offenders and fines are required for tedious offences such as driving a motorcycle during the day with the lights on! And police tend to pick on the less upward mobile.

In all the aforementioned countries governments are actively trying to improve traffic safety. All are way beyond issues such as law abiding. They focus on wearing helmets on bikes (Thailand, Lao PDR) safely crossing roads (Malaysia) or as in the case of Singapore have already attained a good safety record. Why is it that the situation in Cambodia hardly changing. Let’s say it’s got something to do with politics.

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