Week 575 – Sunday,2008-08-31: Boeng Kak Lake: The Prime Minister’s Recommendations – Urgent Human and Environmental Concerns

Posted on 1 September 2008. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 575 |

The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 575

Mirrors have limits and cannot show everything. This Mirror of the Khmer press is similarly constrained because the press itself does not report everything, and we must select. We try to cope with these limitations by selecting a wide variety of items over time; combining the depth of translated articles with the overview of translated headlines; adding explanations and information in [square brackets] and underlined links to additional material available on the Internet; and recollecting past information that is relevant to present events.

This week’s current events demand to recall concerns and recommendations from the recent past.

Last Friday, we carried the translation of a long article “Those Who Live at Boeng Kak Lake Go to Give Their Thumbprints to Get Money and New Housing.

This article said that “500 families had agreed… to take the money offered, because they want to run their businesses and live in the new places with a good environment, and they do not want to live above the sewage at the lake which affects their heath.” – But the article does not say that all together 4,000 families are affected.

“All the citizens said that they want to see the company develop the Boeng Kak region soon, requesting that the company has to act very quickly and make good development, so that the area is not left unused or sold to another company.” – But while those who have to go are said to wish the company all the best, neither the name of the company, and nothing about the fact that the public has not seen any overall plan, is mentioned.

“Most of the citizens agreed to take US$8,000 and Riel 2 million, because they want to choose a new location by themselves where it is easy to run their everyday living businesses.” – Most of the 500 families out of 4,000, that is – moving to Chaom Chau, beyond the airport, to the outskirts of Phnom Penh 15 km away from close to the center of the city, where they are now.

“As for the development of the Boeng Kak region, it is seen that the company has started to pump sand into the lake, gradually, since 26 August 2008.”

Already in March 2007, Samleng Yuvachun Khmer had reported that there might be conflicts over the development of the Boeng Kak area. At that time, it was reported that the Phnom Penh municipality told the residents that there would be development ‘in place,’ meaning that, as part of the development project, people would be assisted to have new housing in the same area. Some details were reported:

“At present, the Boeng Kak area covers 133 hectares, which a company leased from the government at the price of $0.60 per square meter for every year according to the 99-year contract. The company has to pay roughly US$79 million for the lease of this area. Currently, there are 4,012 families living in this area, and the people have come to live in this area since the 1980s or 1990s. In an interview with people living in this area, most of them supported the project of development in place; that is, that they are not relocated to the outskirts during the construction.

The people of the Boeng Kak area are still afraid that the development project will probably affect their residences. Even though the Phnom Penh municipality authorities assured them about the development, the people are still concerned, and do not trust the Phnom Penh municipal authorities and the governor Kep Chutema, because the authorities have not considered the people’s interests as important.”

Now, it seems that the concept of development “in place” has been abandoned.

In January 2008, an article in Khmer Machas Srok highlighted concerns also about the environmental impact and the secretive method of concluding the contract:

“Shukaku Inc., has been preparing to connect a pipe to dredge sand from the Tonle Sap River opposite the Royal Palace to fill Boeng Kak Lake…

Before allowing Shukaku Inc. to dredge sand from the river to fill 133 hectares of Boeng Kak Lake, the Ministry of Meteorology and Water Resources, … the Ministry of Environment,… as well as other relevant institutions must join together to study carefully the impact on the environment, if this company dredges sand to fill Boeng Kak Lake, leaving only 10 hectares of the lake’s surface, in order to guard from damages…

[The newspaper] called the signing of the contract to grant the concession of Boeng Kak Lake to Shukaku Inc. seriously corrupt, involving senior officials in the government and in the Cambodian People’s Party, who do not think about the public interest and the impact on the environment. This huge development plan was not publicly announced so that other private companies could have participated in the bidding for the development of the Boeng Kak Lake area…

Shukaku Inc. belongs to Yeay Phou [‘Grandmother Phou,’ Mrs. Chheung Sopheap, the director of the Pheapimex company] and her husband Mr. Lao Meng Khin, who advises Prime Minister Hun Sen on international affairs,.. asking for an investment license in the Boeng Kak Lake area,… with a lease contract for 99 years at a price of more than $70 million. This price of the lease is considered by economists to be very cheap; moreover, the contract was signed quietly and secretly between the Council of Ministers, the Municipality, and Shukaku Inc.”

Later in January 2008, Areyathor reported that Samdech Heng Samrin, the President of the National Assembly – and also a Honorary President of the Cambodian People’s Party – had signed a letter for the suspension of pumping of soil to fill Boeng Kak lake, and the paper reported also that the Phnom Penh governor and vice-governor allegedly disagree with each other about filling Boeng Kak lake.

It is noteworthy that even the severe warnings of Prime Minister Hun Sen seem to have been completely disregarded in this matter. The Mirror had asked already in March 2007: “Do Phnom Penh City Plans Ignore the Prime Minister’s Recommendations?” We repeat the words of the Prime Minster below – the “11-Point Recommendations for the Environment: Over-Exploitation of Natural Resources Caused by Business Activities Will Result in the Loss of Natural Opportunities.

On 20.2.2007, The Mirror “reported the Prime Minister’s Eleven Point Recommendations for the environment and the concern that over-exploitation of natural resources caused by business activities will result in the loss of natural opportunities and protections. There are serious warnings about the long term negative consequences for the future of the country, if short term benefits are pursued recklessly, without the serious concern for the future. One cannot but wonder why these concerns are not reflected at all in the plans forcefully pushed ahead by the Phnom Penh municipal administration for the Boeng Kak area.

The Prime Minister makes it clear that utmost care is necessary when it comes to considerations about the natural environment, calling that strategies and action plans need to be revised every three years. Human insight into the delicate natural balance of environmental factors is still fairly new, and therefore plans need to be regularly adjusted in order not to miss some important points…

The Prime Minister stressed that it is difficult to protect endangered natural resources. Many voices have been reported which warn of severe flooding for the city of Phnom Penh if important reservoirs which provide temporary basins for excessive rain water – such as the Boeng Kak Lake – are filled in to a large extent. Who will be held responsible – and who will pay the enormous costs of flooding – when the warnings come true? The Prime Minister has emphasized that offenders must be held fully responsible for the consequences of their actions. How will this be realized, once the plans are implemented and if they have strong negative consequences?

The Prime Minister also stressed that successful and effective control of natural resources can best be achieved when the affected local people participate in the implementation of related programs. Until now, only rough ideas about the future have been shared with the public, and inquiries by the media about details have not resulted in much clarification, because the officials in charge ‘are too busy to talk to reporters.’ None of the press reports we are aware of mention anything about the most important recommendation of the Prime Minister: that in the case of environmentally sensitive developments, the Ministry of Environment should work with officials at all levels to create community statutes which make sure that the benefits from development based on the use of nature should be shared equitably.

The Prime Minister added that the possible impacts have to be assessed by the Ministry of Environment, and that such assessment has to be carried out transparently… It is obvious that the requirement that the assessments be transparent – especially to the people living in the area and being affected – has been disregarded.

Finally, it is astonishing that such far-reaching plans are being pursued without an open publicly announced bidding process. It is astounding that a hardly known company, which is identified in some media as Japanese and in others as Korean, got a 99-year lease agreement which will have fundamental consequences for the capital city of Cambodia for the next century – without broad public debate. One can only hope that the profound concerns expressed by the Prime Minister will be heeded before too much damage has been done.”

The Prime Minister’s recommendations from early last year urgently need to be fulfilled. Because the pumping of sand – the beginning of probably irreversible damage – has now started.

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