Toll postpones criticised Cambodia rail project
Zoe Daniel, South East Asia correspondent
Australian company Toll has suspended its involvement in a heavily-criticised railway project in Cambodia.
The project has been partly funded by the Australian Government's aid agency, AusAID.
Toll has a 30-year concession to run Cambodia's train lines, which are being refurbished with funding from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and AusAID.
In a statement, the ADB says that Toll has suspended its involvement for one year due to refurbishment delays, and that may further slow down construction.
The project's been heavily criticised due to the relocation of thousands of Cambodians who've had to make way for the tracks and have been resettled inadequately.
The potential for Toll to benefit from Australian aid money has also been questioned.
AusAID responded to enquiries by saying questions should be directed to Toll.
Toll would not comment.
Suspension first step: watchdog
Matthew Hilton from AidWatch, an independent organisation which assesses Australian aid programs, says the Toll suspension did not come as a surprise.
He says the ADB is yet to respond to the bigger issue of resettlement.
"I guess our first reaction is the elephant in the room is that of resettlement," he told Zoe Daniel.
"There doesn't appear to be any mention in the Asian Development Bank statement about whether they'll be responding to any of the substantive issues of the problematic resettlement process.
"It's clear that there's been a really haphazard relocation process of a few thousand people including to resettlement sites that had no water, electricity and generally people's standard of living was increasingly problematic."
Toll has argued they are not responsible for those communities forced to relocate, but Matthew Hilton rejects that as "a bit of a cop out."
"[Toll] are receiving the benefit from people who have been moved, as in the land that's been taken."
Mr Hilton says many of the people relocated were intimidated into losing their land, and then paid inadequate compensation.
"So, we suggested a suspension to stop that going forward, but also a process to look backwards to adequately compensate people."
And, he says, the possible complete withdrawal of Toll from the project would raise issues for AusAID.
"AusAID has said that part of the rationale for the project is about kick-starting privatisation of railway lines in Asia. That was in the concept notes. So, we think that AusAID would be pretty concerned about Toll not being involved," he said.