Crossing Cambodia

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Chasing cars, once in a while

What happened? Well, an honest answer is answer is nothing! With the impending elections coming up (photo's of election traffic here) and side issues such as whether or not to prosecute the opposition (leader?) and the sovereignty of the Preah Vihear, all press coverage seems to be dominated by these issues. One would believe that traffic issues such as increasing price of fuel, lack of access and/or safety issues would take a significant place but alas, ...
  • Are paying bribes an election issue? According to the Economic Times Bureau, India:
    'In Cambodia, a survey found that 89% of encounters with traffic police resulted in a bribe'.
    They highlight the UNDP report:
    “The real price of corruption is not paid in currency. The true costs are eroded opportunities, increased marginalisation of the disadvantaged and feelings of injustice,” says a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report, Tackling Corruption, Transforming Lives, released on Thursday'.
    Not an issue worth discussing(?), especially if nearly 90% take part in the system...
  • Cars containing timber? Somehow a recent spate of crack downs on this type of smuggling has been decreed. In Kampong Cham and in Stung Treng provinces.
  • Vietnam continues to complain about subsidizing Cambodian fuel prices.
    'Last week, the market management unit of Kien Giang Province caught the owners of two gas stations as they prepared to illegally transport 7,000 liters of gasoline to Cambodia.

    The arrests have not seemed to deter the many others involved in fuel smuggling'.
    The solution would be to have either a proper border control (which would also solve the problem with 'cars containing timber') or stopping subsidizing fuel consumption altogether.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Chasing Cars, the weekend before ...

Not much!?
  • Which flights into Cambodia are not taking place? This article sums it up: Chiang Mai - Siem Reap amongst others. Great to blame it on the off-season.
  • Another method to tackle the rising fuel prices is put forward by the Cambo government:
    'Finance Minister Keat Chhon has ordered a special ministry committee to be formed to monitor the price of gasoline amid fears the fuel companies were gouging prices, which have crept towards record highs of 6,000 riels ($1.50) a liter during the past few days, a ministry official said'.
    So if someone is profiteering, we decide to monitor them?
  • More monitoring, the expat males over at Khmer 440 are looking into moto prices: are moto prices going up? Follow the discussion:
    'The longer you stay and are known the less you pay'.
    'since the price of petrol has shot up I would say 1500 riels/km would be a good measuring stick to go by'.
  • This photo would go some way to off-setting the cost:
  • On the same Khmer 440 forum a report on an accident with this advice:
    'Avoiding becoming collateral damage is also part of the expat experience'.
  • Safety concerns? Authorities say yes, but police blame it on bad luck. The Cambo Daily (June 5, 2008) reports on a number of deadly accidents which resulted in six killed in 4 seperate accidents in Phnom Penh. Police comment:
    'It is very strange for our traffic police. It was a bad luck day'.
    By the way all victims were travelling on motorbike.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Authoritarian policy priorization

From the weekly Mirror an interesting and revealing article on how Cambodian authorities prioritize everything, but more often than not fail to deliver on any of the set priorities.

To illustrate their story they look into depth at the current (or new-ish) traffic law:
'The new traffic law, adopted by the National Assembly in mid 2006, to be implemented only six months after it was signed by the King, should have started to have a visible impact by now – two years later'.
It also takes a look at the donating of GPS receivers by Handicap International Belgium (HIB), which was commented on by Crossing Cambodia earlier this week. To this the Mirror editorial adds:
'But it was also reported [in the handing over ceremony of GPS receivers] “that traffic accidents increase in Cambodia:” during the period of the first four months of 2008, there were already 2,249 accidents, and 560 people have lost their lives. Is this another indication that the challenge is too wide, so that the manifold goals of the new Land Traffic Law can hardly be seen to be achieved? Or is it just a reflection of the fact that the beginning implementation is not happening according to realistic priorities, and therefore not so much could be achieved?'
Again, it seems that merely hot air is produced, by now HIB which is a major donor should have expected some achievements. The editorial also looks more closely at what should be done:
' ... one should look and focus on minor points and start from there. And as an example he [a senior legal advisor to the Cambodian Senate] raised the problem that when traveling at night and the traffic light is red, still some vehicles continue to proceed.'
The editor adds, by asking the question of whether the political will to enforce the law really does exist?
'On 26 August and on 2 September 2007, I described that I had almost an accident – it was with a car without a license plate which almost hit the moto-taxi I was on. It is a major – non-technical – risk, that so many cars are on the road without displaying even a temporary license plate to identify themselves. This shows a basic flaw in the effort to enforce the law. It might not be too difficult to set it as a priority for some time, to stop, and to fine all cars without a license plate. It would also be an effective way to ensure that violators of traffic rules can be identified – and victims of accidents will not stay without knowing who hurt them'.
So that's a no? The editor's concluding remarks:
'Nowadays, police are obviously reluctant to report “powerful vehicles” belonging to “powerful institutions.” At that time last year, the Prime Minister had said that action against corruption can be conducted “if we are willing” even without an anti-corruption law. Are the law enforcement agencies willing?'
Probable answer is no.

What does this tell about Cambodian authorities? Certainly Crossing Cambodia would agree that the inability of Cambodian authorities to uphold any law reflects poorly on those authorities themselves.
But is this also not distinctively Cambodian? Anyone following this blog for the past 2 years should by now know that despite each nations uniqueness, Cambodia is trailing all it's neighbours, be they communist / capitalist be they richer / poorer in all aspects of regulating traffic which consequently results in poor safety standards which one could claim is neglect of duty by the government. So why not outright blame the same government?

Monday, June 02, 2008

Chasing Cars, June 2, 2008

  • How safe is traffic in Cambodia? Well, if even UFO's are having accidents over or near Cambodia, then we can clearly say that the traffic situation in Cambodia is not so safe after all.
    'A UFO has exploded in mid-air over a southern Vietnamese island, according to reports.
    Villagers say they heard a loud blast yesterday and later found shards of metal near the island's coastline.
    The sensational revelations come one day after neighbouring Cambodia's air force retracted a report of a mysterious plane crash.
    The Vietnam News Agency said residents of Phu Quoc island, six miles off the coast of the Cambodian province of Kampot, found shards of grey metal, including one 1.5 metres long'.
    Pictures of shards obtained in Cambodia are here. So it was a UFO, but everybody has been told to hush up. From the Vietnamese press:
    'Nguyen Thanh Banh, Kien Giang police deputy chief, told Thanh Nien anyone found guilty of spreading rumors from the incident that would negatively affect security on the island would be dealt with according to law'.
    That's good to know, that the law will be upheld. What does the Vietnamese law say about spreading rumours? Do they actually have a law on spreading rumours? Do they have legislation on UFO's? Does the traffic law in Cambodia have anything to say on UFO's?
  • The train was back in the news last week. It derailed surprisingly:
    'The reason for the overturn appears to be the decrepit old railroad tracks which could no longer support the weight of the wagons'.
    Possibly the same train also derailed a few days earlier in Battambang. The reason:
    ' "It rains a lot previous day that land under the rail ways went down", he [an official] say'.
  • What with fuel wagons being derailed and pilfered (see above), more problems behest the fuel situation in Cambodia:
    'On average, 10,000 –15,000 litres are smuggled into Cambodia through Kien Giang Province every day ... the province’s Department of Industry and Trade has instructed oil enterprises to limit monthly supplies to retailers in border communes to 150,000 litre'.
    Darn! No more cheap petrol for Cambodia!
  • How much value are employees to your company? Sufficient enough to give them helmets? Well, Crossing Cambodia would think so. But why would this logical line of thought need to be highlighted:
    'Hence, the hotel [Victoria Angkor Resort and Spa] did something about it – by generously supplying helmets to all staff members. “The staff members were overjoyed as they were given one helmet each for free,” said the beaming general manager.'
  • More non-news: current and most probable future Cambodian PM, Hun Sen, wants his high ranking officials to foot the bill themselves for driving:
    'Hun Sen wants to condition the members of the upcoming Cambodian government with a new measure: the end of all service cars (for VIPs)'.
    Q.: will it happen? A.: don't think so ...
  • Do we have any indication on the situation on the road to Koh Kong? Tales of Asia forum reports:
    'The bridges are now all complete and coaches, a.c. nice seats, toilets, towels and water are now doing the run for 10 $ U.S. It's six hours, with a lunch and loo stop to P.P. so maybe a half hour less to Sihanoukville, no change of bus'.
    Khmer 440 forum adds:
    'A friend of mine said yesterday all bridges are allowing traffic even though two bridges are incomplete'.
    'Regarding the bridges, I took the bus from KK to Sihanoukville and got there in 4 hours without changing bus, all bridges were fully functional. I just wonder if Asean Hotel in KK overcharged me on the ticket, paid 15$ U.S. '.
    A.: yes, but only by 50%!
  • The road Siem Reap-border:
    'nasty weather made the road very muddy'
  • Frizz restaurant has got it's Cambodia Travel guide updated. Why they don't simply put the info on wikitravel is beyond Crossing Cambodia, possibly a potential to plug themselves, though they are a restaurant not a travel agency. From the Dangers and Annoyances section, some sound advice:
    'Definitely the most dangerous aspect of Cambodia: the traffic. This country has a shocking number of traffic casualties, even more so if you consider the still relatively low number of cars.
    In the cities it's not so bad. Although chaotic for the western eye, traffic in cities tends to be slow and when accidents occur it's usually limited to material damage.
    You will see a quite different situation on the roads between towns: speeding cars and old trucks and minivans dangerously overloaded with people and goods. ....
    Many visitors are tempted to hire a moto or even an off-road bike. You should be an experienced driver if you want to ride around Cambodia. Give yourself time to get adjusted to the traffic 'rules' and always wear a helmet!'
  • Then some quirky khmernews:
    'Bus Transports Illegally Luxurious Timber
    A bus, which contained a lot of cubic meters of luxurious log, was stopped by Kampongcham province police. The timber was illegally transported to Vietnam'.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Politics of progress

It is perceived that Cambodia is one of the lesser developed countries in the world. Though it is in an excellent position to catch up with it's neighbours such as Vietnam (10 (?) years ahead) and Thailand (20+ years ahead), both of whom are increasingly lowering levels of poverty and creating substantial amounts of wealth.

These factors contribute to Cambodia having an industry, otherwise known as the 'development' scene, which pumps in large amounts of money in return for zillions of unread reports.

Successful development organisations are noted for their ability to create turnover while simultaneously producing reports which are timely (of utmost importance!) though mostly illegible. And, oh yes, successful organisations are those which can produce bills, preferably with date, amount and a description of what the amount was used for, corresponding to the correct year ('please hand in bills, no later than November 1, other expenses can be accounted in the following project year, though no earlier than March 1').

These terrific amount of monies are all forwarded by a number of tax payers back home, who are more than willing to dispense of these, as they know that the amounts spent will ultimately end up in the right hands. The organisations working in this development industry can be roughly placed into two groups:
  1. those few, really trying to assist in helping the dis-enfranchised/poor and
  2. the majority, intent on creating turnover and hot air.
In between these two groups are organisations promoting ends which have, over time, became more than evident in developed countries. Examples of these ends are for instance environmental awareness, environmental protection, etc., etc. Missing the vocal support that they have back home, they are trying somehow to find ways to get their message over,while simultaneously meeting their goals. Some face difficulties; for instance organisations against deforestation: with the lack of local support in Cambodia, they have to cooperate with Cambodian authorities whom are those who profit the most from this deforestation!

So where does this fit in with travel / transport in Cambodia? Well, most of the posts on this blog concern traffic safety issues, the lack of safety and the lack of government willingness to address this. This was never the intention, but it seems that these issues are a returning factor, which determines the way traffic takes place in Cambodia

Arguably if traffic safety is the spearhead of your organisation you are in a difficult situation. Can you pressurize the authorities from the outside, especially in light of the lack of support you'll get from the Cambodian society? Or do you support currently non-existent local safety concerned organisations? Or do you suck up to the authorities, give them what they want (preferably cash), while at the same time hope the same authorities will assist you in achieving your objective?

Well, in the more organised societies (can Crossing Cambodia say this?) traffic safety issues have often been brought about, by well-intended citizens banding together and pressurizing their elected governments to ensure their safety. For governments this a win-win situation: accidents and deaths clearly disturb (/end!) valuable lives, while creating an atmosphere of 'listening to the general public' creates (an image of) goodwill, which most politicians (for whom the governments rely on) hope the favour will be returned at the next elections.

This logic however is not visible in Cambodia. Partially due to the lack of overall organisation within society, partially to blatant ignorance towards any Cambodian citizens rights, to be treated as equal. Wealth is apparently growing, that's very evident, but even an outdated organisation, such as the World Bank, signifies that the gap in wealth is increasing: those connected to authorities are amassing huge amounts of wealth, while simultaneously grandstanding ignorance of other citizens as the number one society attribute in Cambodia.

Handicap International Belgium (HIB) is the only organisation involved in road safety in Cambodia and what have they to show for their couple of years experience?
  • one of the best web-sites in Southeast Asia for recording traffic accidents
  • a traffic law which would put many countries elsewhere on the globe to shame
  • media savvy events which are eagerly attended by dignitaries and reported by otherwise news starved local reporters
  • traffic lessons conducted nationwide at many schools.
In other words HIB has become synonymous with traffic safety in Cambodia.

However, at the same time they fail to address the issue: recording accidents only makes them visible, they certainly don't become less. The (new) traffic law is a farce, as the sophistication required is lost on traffic policemen who have no clue what a red light stands for, nor how to enforce even the simplest traffic rules (don't drive on the left side!). The grand, popular meetings are mostly meant to pamper to the authorities, gain some turnover and keep everybody smiling. Unfortunately Crossing Cambodia has its doubts on the worthfulness of the traffic lessons, but know insufficient details, so let's say the jury is till out on this.

Mirror (vol.12, no. 562) of 30 May 2008 headlines an article from Rasmei Kampuchea on HIB's continuing efforts:
HIB provided 215 GPS receivers to the Commissioner General of the National Police
“Phnom Penh: On the morning of 29 May 2008, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed by H.E Ouk Kim Lek and Mr. Bruno Leclercq, the Country Director of Handicap International Belgium for Cambodia, according to which 215 GPS receivers [satellite supported Global Positioning Systems] and other emergency equipment for road traffic safety were provided by Handicap International Belgium to the National Police at the Ministry of Interior.
“The Deputy Director of the National Police, H.E. Ouk Kim Lek, said that the aid now provided by Handicap International Belgium to the National Police is most important, because it is urgently needed by Cambodian people to reduce traffic accidents which are continually increasing.
“His Excellency continued, ‘Cambodia is developing, and at the same time, also traffic accidents increase. The aid provided today will contribute a lot to reduce traffic accidents in the future. Now, we are improving the traffic police to be much better than before to help reduce traffic accidents.’
“Mr. Bruno Leclercq stated that the equipment delivered will contribute to reduce traffic accidents. It is observed that traffic accidents increase in Cambodia, and he hopes that the number will decline after the new traffic law have been implemented.
“The manager of the Cambodia Road Traffic Accident and Victim Information System of Handicap International Belgium, Mr. Sem Panhavuth, said that the Memorandum of Understanding covers approximately US$100,000 for a period of two years from 2008 to 2009, which includes the 215 emergency GPS receivers, the training for traffic police countrywide on how to use the GPS receivers, and the training courses in emergency life saving skills for traffic police so that they can help traffic accident victims before they are referred to hospitals.
“Mr. Sem Panhavuth went on to say that these GPS receivers are used for road traffic safety work to find and to identify the locations where traffic accidents occur very often on some important roads. The locations which are noted as places that often have traffic accidents will be changed to avoid hazards and will be marked with warning signs to lessen traffic accidents.
“It should be known that during the period of the first four months of 2008, there were 2,249 accidents which caused 560 deaths, injured seriously 1,792 people, and injured 2,088 people lightly. The accidents which had happened involved 217 heavy trucks, 755 cars, and 186 other vehicles, 217 pedestrians, and 2,262 motorbikes. As for 2007, there were 9,449 accidents in which 1,545 people died, 7,150 people were badly injured, and 17,655 people were lightly injured.”
Rasmei Kampuchea, Vol.16, #4602, 30.5.2008.
'Remarkable', is what Crossing Cambodia has to say on this. How on earth can they believe that GPS receivers can in any way contribute to achieving anything in the field of road safety? A pure waste of money! If you want to handover cash why not make it conditionable: 'you enforce the law for x months, then and only then will we reward you'. Surely they have some levearage over the authorities, afterall they are basically doing their dirty work!
' ....HIB hopes that the new traffic law will be implemented.'
Cambosix are currently taking on bets, with 2050 the most likely ...
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