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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - A Koh Kong wrong

A Koh Kong wrong

The King of Koh Kong has done it again. As if Ly Yong Phat’s sand digging weren’t already wreaking enough havoc along the Tatai River, one of his earth-eating monstrosities managed to knock out power to the provincial capital.

The result will be as many as seven days without power for Khemarak Pumin town, as well as an unquantifiable amount of lost business for the local community.

LYP’s exploits are well known. He’s the CPP senator selling Koh Kong sand to Singapore, and dredging up the ire of locals in the process. He’s drawn protests from villagers evicted to make way for his Kampong Speu palm sugar plantation as well. And now Khemarak Pumin, where yesterday Governor Phe Thoun Plamkesan said local businesses – those who can’t afford generators – are using candles to light shops and restaurants at night.

He expects restoration to full power to take at least four to seven days, as Ly Yong Phat’s dredging machine managed to fell on of the town’s main electricity poles. Businesses both large and small are facing a loss of income, he said.

“We can’t count the total amount of money lost, but we think it has had a huge effect on our town.”

Keo Chun Chheng, who works at Koh Kong City Hotel, said his generator burns 270 litres of petrol a day in order to keep the lights on. And even then it’s not enough to do so all the time. He estimated the hotel loses “40 per cent of our income when the electricity is off.”

Even Veng Chum, a 42-year-old vendor in Khemarak Pumin, told the Post he can’t earn the US$30 a day he usually does because he can’t conduct business at night.

“It’s difficult to do anything,” he said yesterday, adding he was “so worried” about the loss of business.

Admittedly, Ly Yong Phat is low-hanging fruit. It’s easy to take a big swing at a guy who’s so derided by both the activist community and a sizeable segment of the public. But there’s a larger issue worth noting here.

As big as the swing taken at Ly Yong Phat, these events leave big impressions on foreign investors. They remember land evictions. They remember the environmental damage done by sand dredging. And they’ll remember a company that remained quiet while an entire town sat in darkness.

There’s more to worry about than just the General Electrics of the world. Smaller investors are a concern here as well, and the treatment of local businesses in Khemarak Pumin won’t go unnoticed. Tim Martin, an investment analyst at tourism promotion firm Pacific Islands Trade and Invest, told the Post last summer Ly Yong Phat’s dredging operations along the Taitai had concerned investors.

“It may only take a few deals to go bad for Cambodia’s reputation as a safe investment destination to be damaged,” he said. Therefore, Ly Yong Phat should use the reach and influence of his company to fix the outage problem in Khemarak Pumin, and possibly go so far as to make restitution to the business community that’s suffered thus far. He made overtures to such corporate responsibility in a July interview with the Post, and it seems this situation certainly calls for it.

However, LYP Group so far has made no public comment about the power outage, and Ly Yong Phat did not answer his cell phone when the Post tried to reach him yesterday.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING SEN DAVID

Contact Tom at tom.brennan@phnompenhpost.com

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