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Infrastructure & Utilities

This section provides an overview of Cambodia’s transport, power, communications and natural resource infrastructure. Due consideration should be given to the availability of services when planning the location for business activities.

With powerlines resembling airborne spaghetti and intersections that look like a demolition derby, it’s a reasonable observation to say that Cambodia still has a bit of work to do on the infrastructure and utilities front. Staying abreast of the ongoing developments in this sector can be critical for people doing business here, particularly when any shortcomings have the potential to affect your bottom line. In this issue we provide a snapshot of the Kingdom’s infrastructure and utilities and expand on developments in the pipeline.

  • Cambodia’s road network has been vastly improved over the past decade and journey times to remote areas such as Banlung in Ra­tanakkiri province have been greatly reduced.
  • What took two days in a 4WD vehicle just a few years ago can now be achieved in seven hours, and the new road connecting Banlung to Stung Treng is as good as any you will find in the region. Indeed the country is in the midst of a road-building spree, connecting each of the provincial capitals with wide tarmac roads.
  • Take a look around Phnom Penh and you’ll see a host of new bridges, intersections and roads springing up all across the city. These projects seek to alleviate congestion in the capital, and many more are already in the pipeline.
  • As of 2012, some 4,350 of the total 5,616 kilometers of national roads, and about 1,100 of the total 6,640 kilometers of provincial roads have been rehabilitated and improved, according to a recent speech delivered by Prime Minister Hun Sen.
  • More and more building developments are being design with inclusive parking facilities, and steps are increasingly being taken by city authorities to free the edge of some inner city streets for retail and parking.
  • Outside Phnom Penh, huge stretches of road are being funded by the Government, external aid providers and private interest groups. Different contributing countries, banks and private companies invest in projects in different areas of the country, depending on their intentions and interests.
  • China is responsible for large swathes of this road network development, especially in the North of the country.
  • The relatively low level of available resources limits the repairs and maintenance that can be carried out on the road network, and it’s not unusual to find that a recently constructed road has deteriorated significantly after a couple of years, with long stretches prone to potholes, especially in areas that see a large number of heavy construction vehicles.
  • Roads are often a determining factor in rural Cambodia; so if there’s a road, especially a graded laterite road, then there is likely to be other infrastructure in place such as water and electricity connections.
  • Most economic land concessions have been placed along these major roads as a result of the requirement for access to utilities and infrastructure, and in particular the need to move produce to markets or ports.
  • Rates vary considerably across the country but businesses in the capital should expect to pay about $0.25 per kilowatt-hour, though rates increase if your consumption exceeds certain amounts. Outside of Phnom Penh, rates are higher, and can reach as high as $0.75 per KWh in some provincial areas. Many rural areas have no access to grid electricity, so companies operating here will need to use renewables and/or a generator.
  • Many older Cambodian buildings have quite limited electricity supply, for example 12Amps (2880W). This means if your appliances draw more than 12Amps there’s literally not enough juice to go around—even a kettle can use over 2000W! So if you’re working from an older building (an old villa for example) you might need to increase the supply to 20 or 30Amps or more. Electricite du Cambodge (EDC) will do this for you but you’ll still need a decent electrician to install a proper fuse box. Purpose-built offices won’t have this problem, however if you open a restaurant in an old shop house you may well need to get the supply upgraded.
  • The Government is working to reduce industrial electricity costs in a bid to make Cambodia a more attractive place to invest. New tariffs for industrial, commercial and agricultural use were set by the Electricity Authority of Cambodia in late August 2014, offering a lower rate for night-time consumption. This follows coal and hydro power plants beginning production in 2014 which led to a surplus of approximately 246 megawatts during the wet season. However, due to a lack of grid infrastructure to distribute this surplus, much of it went to waste.
  • Even in urban areas, blackouts and brownouts are still common, particularly during the hotter months (from March to May) when air-conditioners are turned up and demand for electricity outstrips production capacity. The recent advent of large resorts/hotels and other major developments in areas without a history of heavy electricity use, can cause shortages in the grid for surrounding businesses and homes. Planned brownouts are common but often occur without notice. If your business requires a reliable electricity supply then invest in a backup generator or a specialist blackout protection system.
  • Critical electronic equipment should be attached to a UPS (uninterrupted power supply). You should also consider purchasing a voltage stabiliser as the supply is subject to spikes, which can damage sensitive equipment. Bear in mind also that few buildings are earthed—a building maintenance company can organise this for you though the premises will need to be rewired.
  • Solar power is increasingly common in rural Cambodia and equipment prices have decreased considerably in recent years. Such systems are ideal for telecommunications companies and NGOs with facilities in more remote areas. A grid-tie system or a combination of generator and solar power is often employed.
  • In 2013, Cambodia produced approx. 2,000 million kilowatts of power, with another 2,300 million kilowatts imported to support its energy needs. Cambodia’s Royal Group and China’s Hydrolancang were given the go-ahead to start work on the Lower Se San 2 hydropower plant in 2012.
  • In 2015, EDC has announced it will spend $167 million to install a 350km-long high-voltage transmission line connecting four provinces around the Tonle Sap lake. EDC has also announced an $84.5 million project that will see the Vietnamese border town of Bavet connected to the Kingdom’s power grid. In addition, it has been announced that the Chinese government will in part fund the power grid expansion from Kandal province’s Takhmao city to Bavet town in Svay Rieng province to support the latter’s hotel industry.
  • At the end of 2014, General Electric (GE) agreed to conduct a six-month study to identify weaknesses in Cambodia’s electrical grid. According to the EDC, the distance between the country’s main power sources leads to inefficiency in the delivery of electricity, and frequent outages.
  • Between 2013 and 2022, Cambodia’s overall power generation is expected to increase by an annual average of 18.5%, reaching 11.1 terawatt hours.
  • The Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology (MOWRAM) is the Government body in charge of regulating, monitoring and expanding water resources in Cambodia.
  • The Ministry is composed of ten departments and one technical center which focuses on irrigation and meteorology. The ministry has local representatives called “Provincial Departments of MOWRAM” in 24 provinces.
  • Any new investor should assume that water sources for personal consumption or industrial use will differ vastly by location. Assess any water queries in person on site, through discussions with similar shareholders in the area where you wish to purchase or lease land, and through contacting the relevant water authority.
  • The Phnom Penh water supply authority (PPWSA) provides water to the city’s citizens and businesses, with very few issues. It is not advised to drink water directly from the tap in Phnom Penh, however. Despite the cleanliness of the water when it leaves the filtration centers, keep in mind problems in underground infrastructure and piping throughout the city may pollute the water before it arrives at your home or business.
  • Water pressure can also be a problem.
  • Special Economic Zones and the other developed areas will generally have a good supply of running water as well. Providing sound infrastructure and utilities is, after all, one of the SEZs’ chief selling points.
  • Well drilling is an option, and many businesses in provincial areas, such as agriculturalists and tourism vendors, rely on wells as their sole source of water.
  • However, lack of restrictions to the use of underground aquifers means these wells can be run dry because of competing wells along the same aquifer.
  • This requires wells to be drilled deeper to satisfy increasing water demands.
  • Keep in mind, water drawn from wells may still need treatment before being used for drinking.
  • Waste disposal is another utility to which Cambodians have relatively limited access.
  • Urban areas and SEZs offer waste disposal services, whereas in the countryside rubbish is generally burnt.
  • Waste disposal services range in price depending on whether you’re a household or a business, and depending on what type of business you operate.
  • A bookstore with minimal rubbish may pay the residential price while a restaurant next door will pay significantly more as they produce more waste. Check with your waste collector for rates.
  • CINTRI, a private company owned by CINTEC of Canada, has a deal to collect rubbish in Phnom Penh for 49 years, which began in 2002.
  • CINTRI is also available in Sihanoukville.
  • Global Action for Environment Awareness (GAEA) is the only rubbish collection company in Siem Reap.
  • CINTRI’s service bills are distributed via EDC’s payment collection network. This means your rubbish collection fee is tacked on to your electricity bill, automatically.
  • In recent years, strikes have occurred among waste collectors in Phnom Penh, with workers demanding salary increases and benefits. When a strike occurs, waste can be known to build up in the city streets for as long as a week, or longer, until the grievances of the collectors are settled again and the rubbish is cleared. Although, these issues seem to be dissipating recently in light of some improvements to employee wages and benefits.
  • Recycling options are still limited in Cambodia. “Etjai” as they are locally known, or waste pickers, travel around Phnom Penh, collecting recyclables from the trash or buying them directly from residents, which they then sell to recycling stations for a small profit. If you separate your recyclables for the etjai ahead of time, you save them the effort of trawling your rubbish bags. They typically take aluminum cans and plastic bottles, but check with your neighbors about the specific collectors that come by your house.
  • In addition, several NGOs will take paper products to be recycled or made into materials that can be sold which, in addition to helping the environment, benefits communities that need better livelihoods. Friends International and the Community Sanitation and Recycling Organisation take paper and other products such as plastic bags. Smateria, a boutique retailer, takes plastic bags, paper, cardboard boxes, milk and juice boxes, and plastic straws. Prime Tech in Tuol Kork will take printer toner cartridges and sells recycled cartridges. The Anana computer store in Phnom Penh center has a recycling bin for batteries. The Children’s Surgical Center will take reading eyeglasses.
  • Organisations such as LICADHO and Friends International will take used clothing, electronics, and other items for donation to needy families or to sell. To assist you, most of these organisations in Phnom Penh offer the convenience of home pick-up.
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