Monday, April 26, 2010

Residents of Borei Keila refuse to occupy new relocation housing

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Long Sem, 49, sits in his home in Borei Keila on Wednesday. More than 120 families in the community have refused to accept housing that was inaugurated by Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chukteman.

PHNOM Penh Governor Kep Chuktema on Wednesday presided over a ceremony marking the opening of onsite relocation housing in Prampi Makara district’s Borei Keila community, but more than 120 families slated to move in say rooms in the building are too small and have refused to register for them.

The new building, designed to house 174 families, is part of a redevelopment project funded by the private developer Phanimex.

City Hall has promised free housing to families that are being relocated to the building in exchange for the valuable inner-city land they currently occupy. Phanimex has been promised a portion of that land in exchange for constructing the relocation housing.

Nuth Sokly, a representative of the 124 families who have declined to relocate, said they were upset that the new housing was significantly smaller than their current homes, and claimed it lacked electricity and water.
“Our request is that the houses are 4 metres by 12 metres, not 3.8 metres by 9 metres,” he said. He said that authorities had asked each family to provide photos by Monday in order to register for relocation housing, but that they had refused to do so.

“District officials informed us to give them photos by April 5 so that we can receive homes, or they will not be responsible for any damage caused to our home” as a result of further development,” he said. “It means they’ve threatened to evict us and move us to our new homes without proper compensation.”

He said families have been living in their current homes in Borei Keila since 1979, meaning they legally qualify for ownership rights. He demanded that officials pay US$20,000 to each family.

[note: Cambodian land law states that anyone living on land for more than 5 years, uncontested and nonviolently have the same rights as a purchaser of property. The law acknowledges the difficulty in providing sufficient documentation of land ownership since the Khmer Rouge regime destroyed all records of private ownership between 1975 and 1979. Even without official land title documents, other documentation can be sufficient and legally as binding as a title document. In practice this is rarely honored. A World Bank sponsored land title initiative recently fell through when the World Bank spoke out at the unfair way in which the titles were being issued, particularly, ignoring poor areas and land under contestation - places where titles are most sorely needed.]

Am Sam Ath, monitoring supervisor for the rights group Licadho, said that many evictions have been made “without adequate compensation and have not been resolved in a peaceful way”, referring in particular to the January 2009 demolition of the Dey Krahorm community.

“In some areas, people have lived more than 20 years, and the government should give sufficient compensation to people where there is development on state land,” he said.

However, Kep Chuktema said that City Hall had been proactive in initiating discussions with people facing relocation, adding that the offer of new homes right before Khmer New Year was a stroke of “good luck”.

“I have never evicted people without compensation before,” he said. “If there is no choice, you have to relocate to new places because you have lived on state land or private land.”

[note: while this may be true (or not), has the compensation been anywhere near the level of loss incurred by the evicted communities?]

Suy Sophan, the director of Phanimex, said at Wednesday’s ceremony that residents should react positively to the relocation plan, which he said would facilitate the beautification of the city.

“You used to live in a slum area, but now you will move to great new apartments,” he said.

[note: development of inner-city Phnom Penh is a very difficult issue. There is obvious need for development of infrastructure and housing options (beautification is less of a priority). Obviously the RGC has limited funds and private investment can bring in needed money. The only way an investor will invest if their is profit gain for the investor and that means an onsite relocation plan, which is quite favourable to off-site relocation, may include smaller lots and people not getting all that they'd hoped for. Companies will still make large profits off the deals and should be prepared to pass on part of the profits to the residents. An upfront deal, and perhaps a regular cut of profits in the form of discounted utilities or cash each month, for example.]


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