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Leader Talks: H.E. Sim Sitha outgoing Director-General of Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority

Cambodia’s sole potable water provider has come a long way in 60 years since it was officially established by Royal Decree in 1960 signed by King Norodom Sihanouk.

The organization was created as a state treatment and business unit under the direct supervision of the Phnom Penh Municipality and was officially named “Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority” (PPWSA).

PPWSA was and is still responsible for water treatment and supply to satisfy the demand of the population in Phnom Penh and for ensuring the balance of income and expenses in relation to its water treatment investment.

However, at the end of 1993, PPWSA had only a total of 26,881 customers, more than 60% of whom did not pay water bills because many customers appearing in PPWSA’s records could not be reached whilst others had no access to water.

Since then the organization has developed into a publically traded company being the first-ever listing on Cambodia Securities Exchange in 2012 and has forecast this year $85.12 million in revenue and $25.41 million in profit with 27,006 new connections planned for the year alone.

In an exclusive interview with ‘Cambodia Investment Review Leader Talks’ outgoing Chairman of PPWSA H.E. Sim Sitha spoke about the achievements over his nine-year legacy, ongoing developments, and his new role in a government ministry.  

Under Sitha’s leadership, PPWSA has received several international awards and he was individually presented the Leadership Award for Outstanding Contribution to Water Efficiency in the World CSR Day Congress 2015 in Mumbai, India, as well as Manager of the Year Medal in Achievements Forum London 2015 in the UK.

A nine-year legacy at PPWSA

“Over nine years in my tenure as Director-General of PPWSA, I have brought in several significant developments. With my initiatives, three new systems interim of IT revolution concepts and Geographic Information System (GIS), Sodium Chloride System and Spot-billing System, have just been placed,” Sitha said.

“Additionally, in June 2016, PPWSA began to modernize its treatment system equipped with sodium hypochlorite system, where chlorine gas was substituted by liquid chlorine. It has helped reduce risks in using gas chlorine and save a unit cost of treated water. That will help PPWSA dramatically improve its operation and service alongside cost savings,” he added.

In parallel, Sitha was able to increase production capacity which was extended from 300,000m3/day in 2012 to 592,000 m3/day in late 2019 after the construction of 2-stage water treatment plants of Niroth with a capacity of 130,000m3/day each, and Chamcar Mon with a capacity of 52,000 m3/day.

PPWSA distribution network was also rehabilitated and expanded to about 3,618km, serving the residents in Phnom Penh and the neighboring town of Takmao in Kandal province with clean water 24/7. By the end of 2021, the number of connections was from 235,128 in 2012 to 415,602 in June 2021. The population coverage has been increased from 85% in 2012 to more than 90% today.

Sitha outlined that for long-term investments, a third master plan targeted 2016-2030 was formulated. Given now the ambition to achieve Cambodian Sustainable Development Goal 6 (CSDG6), ensuring “100% of the urban population nationwide will get access to clean water by 2025”, this master plan has been reviewed and is being updated, and is expected to be completed in early 2022, he added.

Clean water and sanitation for all Phnom Penh and Takmao achievable in next 10 years

“I think that, in the next 10 years, PPWSA is ready to fully attain the Cambodia Social Development Goal 6 – Clean Water and Sanitation in the context of water supply in Phnom Penh and Takmao. Four key investment projects are in line and have been included in the 3rd master plan (2016-2030) which has been reviewed and is being updated,” Sitha said.

“This should be achievable under the strong support of the Royal Government of Cambodia, especially the tutelary ministries, three of the four ongoing projects have reached the financing agreements, and the other has been under a feasibility study,” he added.

Sitha explained the first project for constructing the water treatment plant of 195,000m3/day started in early 2020, and the second one with the construction of the same-production capacity plant will also start late this year.

“By the way, to achieve its Social Development Goal of universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all by 2030 (CSDG6), the Government has a strong commitment and given high priority to the water sector, setting up several national water policies with strategic plans to rapidly develop the water sector in Cambodia,” Sitha said.

“Actually, in early 2021, during the groundbreaking of construction for the 2-staged Bakheng water treatment plant with a production capacity of 390,000m3/day, the biggest project in Cambodia, Samdech Techo Hun Sen, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia, recommended PPWSA to speed up the construction of this plant to reach the goal,” he added.

First listed company on the local stock exchange

In the first six months this year, PPWSA announced a 6.82% increase in first-half revenue to $39.48 million as net profit amounted to $11.6 million a 12.16% rise compared to the same six-month period last year.

This is will be the last financial report signed by H.E Sim Sitha and bas been replaced by the Sub Decree appointed H.E Long Naro.

PPWSA was the first company to list on the Cambodia Securities Exchange in 2012 – the listing aimed to give credibility to the stock market as well as promote greater transparency and accountability for PPWSA providing the platform to better achieve its goals.

In response, Sitha agreed that since accountability is a vital pillar of Corporate Governance, in which all publicly traded companies shall meet the mandatory requirements of Prakas on Corporate Governance for the Listed Companies.

“According to this Prakas, PPWSA shall be accountable to all stakeholders such as shareholders, employees, customers, suppliers, and other related parties; hence, driving good corporate governance through accountability increases the trustworthiness and legitimacy of the state in the eyes of the public,” Sitha said.

“Therefore, the enhancement of Corporate Governance not only adds value to PPWSA but also creates a better service for water consumers. PPWSA’s compliance to the Prakas on Corporate Governance aligns with Rectangular Strategy-Phase IV of the Royal Government of Cambodia,” he added.

A new role and looking to the future

Since retiring this month from PPWSA Sitha has now been appointed as Secretary of State in charge of water supply, at the Ministry of Industry, Science, Technology & Innovation.

“I hope to achieve my ambition to reach the CSDG6. In fact, water treatment and supply require a proper water law, accurate and comprehensive; otherwise, the Government’s water-related policies, as well as the CSDGs, cannot be realized to ensure 100% of the urban population get access to clean water by 2025, and water for all by 2030,” Sitha said.

“Furthermore, I will take part in the water law enforcement, development activities and formulation of strategic capacity building plans related to the sector. I will also share and transfer all my knowledge and life-long experience to private water operators and other stakeholders through workshops and seminars, etc. This will contribute to assisting Cambodia’s development process,” Sitha added.

‘Cambodia Investment Review – Leader Talks’ series interviews Cambodia’s most influential and important decision-makers so our readers can better understand current and future investment opportunities.

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