The review of a Chinese Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) project has recommended more local business consultation is required to maximise the impact of future projects funded under the programme.

The Study by the Asia Foundation titled, “Community engagement along the Belt & Road” conducted end-user surveys on the bridge connecting Kampong Cham and Tbong Khmum provinces due for completion this year.

The foundation interviewed key stakeholders in the project such as relevant Government Ministries, Non-governmental Organisations, Development Partners and also Local Business and Community Members.

The report found that the majority of those affected by the construction of the bridge viewed the development as “generally positive” because of increasing land prices and expansion in market opportunities through better connectivity.

Although, while improvements in the transparency of project management has been undertaken by both the Royal Government of Cambodia and Chinese counterparts, significant challenges remain regarding transparency.

“Specifically, the Cambodian government in 2012 adopted a Standard Operations Procedure (SOP) for externally funded projects… To date, this SOP has not been used for Chinese funded projects,” the report found.

“Furthermore, cost-benefit analyses or feasibility studies are usually not conducted,” it added.

In response, the report recommended “in terms of the potential impact on local people’s livelihood, the case of Steung Trang-Krouch Chhmar Bridge illustrates a common feature of Chinese-funded projects. This is in which hardware (i.e. infrastructure) is given sole focus, while consideration for software support (i.e. help in finding jobs for people, facilitating safer migration, promoting local business) is almost entirely ignored.”

“[Hence], it is hypothesised here that only when a better mix between hardware and software is achieved will the project impact be maximised,” the report added.

The Bridge will link Kampong Cham’s Steung Trang District and Krouch Chhmar District in Tbong Khmum. The whole bridge-body can be connected and completed by December 2020 and will be completed ahead of schedule in March 2021 (originally due for completion in May 2021), said the Ministry of Public Works.

“The bridge will make a significant contribution to transportation, travelling and cargo transport of the people in both Kampong Cham and Tbong Khmum Provinces,” according to the Ministry.

The bridge is a steel fibre bridge, totals 1,131 metres in length and is 13.5 metres in width. Construction started in 2018, with a total cost of nearly $57 million and a construction period of 42 months.

China has been the number one source of foreign direct investment into Cambodia since 2011, averaging investment capital of about $1 billion a year through 2017, which then jumped up to $3.5 billion in 2018. Primary sectors for investment are garments, construction, electricity, rice milling, agribusiness, mining and energy, coal and tourism.

The report was funded by the Australian Government through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and implemented by The Asia Foundation.

Author: Harrison White
Editor’s note: The article reflects the author’s opinion only, and not necessarily the views of editorial opinion of Belt & Road News.