The opening of a $20-million dry port has been delayed because of demands by the government a $250,000 deposit from the company, according to customs and Sihanoukville port officials.
The Cambodia-CWT Dry Port has been in the works since 1995, when CWT Distribution Ltd of Singapore signed a joint-venture deal with the Transport Ministry’s Sihanoukville Port Authority.
The dry port was aimed at alleviating customs clearance delays and storage space problems at the seaport.
Sihanoukville Port Director Lu Kimchhun said Tuesday the dry port has been completed for several weeks, but now a sudden request from the government for the deposit—not mandated by the initial contract—has delayed matters.
CWT’s Cambodia project manager, Goh Seng Khong, declined to be interviewed.
Lu Kimchhun claimed the deposit was required to protect the government from losing tax revenues if goods were to go missing during transport between Sihanoukville and the dry port, where they would clear customs.
Lu Kimchhun said CWT is negotiating with the Finance Ministry over reducing the amount of the deposit, and the port chief said he has met personally with Finance Minister Keat Chhon over the issue. He did not know by how much the ministry might reduce the deposit.
Several Finance Ministry officials reached Wednesday declined to speak on the issue.
One senior government adviser said that the Council of Ministers was drafting a sub-decree to regulate the new dry port and believed it would be completed this month after Khmer New Year. He said the $250,000 was security and denied that the money was a bribe.
When the Cambodia-CWT Dry Port finally does opens, it will be Cambodia’s second such facility. A local company, Meng Srieng Express Import-Export Transportation, opened its own dry port on Route 4 in August 1996. It is owned by a son of Phnom Penh Chamber of Commerce President Teng Bunma.
CWT’s original contract gave the firm exclusive rights to operate a dry port.
At the time CWT officials said that customs operations would have to move to their dry port and Meng Srieng would act only as a storage facility.
However, several government officials said this week that Kamcontrol officials would continue to continue to inspect and clear goods for export or import at Meng Srieng.
“It has a license to operate and it will continue to operate because we have a free market policy,” said former Transport Undersecretary of State Nou Saing Khan.
Meng Srieng Director Meng Chan Tha said Wednesday that his company had also paid a deposit of about $400,000 to the government when its dry port opened.
He said that business will be more competitive with two dry ports operating but his operation has been licensed by the two prime ministers and he expected the government to allow his dry port to keep operating.
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