An NGO is taking aim at development companies in a new report detailing the troubling tactics of construction companies forcibly evicting residents of Phnom Penh.
The study, released yesterday, showed that among 77 sites since 2011 throughout Phnom Penh where residents were evicted so their building or neighborhood could be developed, only 35 percent had been completed and the benefits promised to both local communities and evicted residents had almost always been forgotten or ignored.
The report from NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT), titled “Promises Kept,” painted a worrying picture of government efforts to develop the capital.
It showed that the vast majority of companies did not follow the original master plans during construction, did not comply with the promises they made to the local community, the government and evicted residents, and provided little benefit to anyone in the vicinity of the buildings.
Soeung Saran, the acting director of STT, unveiled the report at the American Intercontinental School in Phnom Penh yesterday and said one of the most troubling trends the group found concerned the compensation offered to those who had been evicted.
Most of the companies had not fulfilled their promises to evicted residents, either giving them less money than what was agreed or giving them worthless plots of land far outside the city that were not of equivalent value to the land they gave up.
Mr. Saran noted that the group was not against the development of Phnom Penh and welcomed investment and commercial projects. But these developments have come at a cost: thousands of families have been, and continue to be, forcibly evicted solely for the beautification of the city, he said.
“Evictions in the name of modernization and urban growth is a rather weak and inadequate premise, when progress has been moderate, gradual and slow,” the report said.
“Furthermore, there is a significant lack of transparency throughout the process, both for the evictees and from the side of the authorities or private developers implementing the development plans.”
A representative from the Borei Keila community, Sar Sorn, said the actions of the company that bought the land did not correspond to the government’s promises.
People died because of the loss of their homes or were forced into homelessness, unemployment and insecurity, she said. Many of the children living in these communities lost the chance to attend school because of their lack of a home, she added.
“The Cambodian government: please urge Phanimex to build the 10 buildings as they promised to the people who they forcibly evicted.
They made our living conditions harder and they have to ensure that people get something equal to what they lost,” she said.
“The developers have to study the effects on people and solve the problems for citizens before their eviction.”
The 61-page report studied developments started between 2011 and 2016 and found that 35 percent of the 77 eviction sites were completely developed, with 40 percent only partially developed and 25 percent in disarray.
“These developments are only for small groups or for their few clans only,” Mr. Saran said.
He went on to cite a number of examples of communities that suffered greatly from forced evictions only to see the development company abandon the promises made to local residents and evicted residents.
Much of the Krahom community, he said, was forced to leave the area to make way for the construction of a large commercial building. But the area was instead turned into an entertainment venue.
For the Borei Keila neighborhood, the government and company promised to develop 10 residential buildings for evicted residents, but only constructed eight, he said.
He detailed the struggles many Phnom Penh residents suffered and said most communities did not receive any information about the proposed development in their area.
When they did take the initiative and asked their local government officials for more information, they were either berated, turned away or sent on a never-ending chase from ministry to ministry.
Authorities, he said, often sent residents to another institution or government office knowing they would not have the answers they were seeking.
Mr. Saran urged the government and private sector to evaluate the impact of their work, be more transparent and provide adequate compensation for citizens before evicting them.
The international community should also put pressure on the government in case of any irregularities or violence related to evictions and development, he said.
City Hall spokesman Met Meas Pheakdey denied the facts presented in the report and claimed the government always considered the living conditions of people before forcibly evicting them.
“Our country has always wanted to develop,” he said. “We always discuss to find a solution where there are problems in development if it affects related people.
“We have always negotiated to find solutions, offering policy in accordance with the principles of the government.”
He did not respond to questions about Phanimex and its refusal to build the last two apartment buildings they promised to evicted residents.
Since 1990, the report said, more than 29,700 families have experienced eviction or displacement from their homes in Phnom Penh, all of which was justified in the name of development.
The 29,700 families came from Borei Keila, Boeung Kak, Koh Pich, Sambok Chab, Dey Krahom, Ta Pan, Sen Rekreay, Banteay Slek, Chroy Changvar and many other places.