PHNOM Penh Governor Kep Chuktema blasted human rights organisations for their criticisms of the city’s housing and resettlement policies as he presided over the presentation of replacement housing at the Borei Keila community in Phnom Penh’s Prampi Makara district on Wednesday.
“Human rights organisations have accused me, [Deputy Governor] Mann Chhoeun and city officials of evicting poor people. The facts do not bear out their accusations,” Kep Chuktema said during the ceremonial handing over of an onsite resettlement complex to 174 families at Borei Keila.
The building, constructed by Phanimex, a local company, was the fourth that City Hall has given to Borei Keila’s residents, he said, after three buildings were presented to 522 families in March 2007.
While acknowledging that everything the city did was not perfect, the governor described the new Borei Keila buildings as “hotels for poor people”, adding that rights NGOs had criticised the municipality’s policies without acknowledging the pace of development in the city.
“If Borei Keila was kept like it was previously, what would it have been like?” he said.
“It is difficult to understand those who have ears but pretend to be deaf. Their eyes are bright, but they pretend to be blind,” he said.
Tuk-tuks for Tuol Sambo
Contrary to the criticisms of many human rights NGOs that the relocation in June and July of HIV-positive families from Borei Keila to Tuol Sambo on the outskirts of the city put them out of the reach of medical care, Kep Chuktema said authorities always cared for those residents once they reached the new sites.
He added that residents at Tuol Sambo had been provided with tuk-tuks to ferry them to hospital for vital treatments.
Som Sovann, the governor of Prampi Makara district, said that a total of 10 buildings were planned for the Borei Keila residents, on 4.6 hectares of land, and that the construction company would be completing two more in the near future.
He said that those who were eligible to receive land were divided into 4 categories, but warned that short-term renters or those who falsified documents were not eligible for on-site housing.
Resident Moul Davy, 35, who received a 4-by-9-metre house on the first floor of one of the new buildings, said that she was “happy” with the on-site development, but sad for those who have been relocated.
“The Borei Keila case is better. We have not been vacated to live on the outskirts. We are lucky.”
Although the municipality was promoting the development of the city, Sia Phearum, secretariat director of the Housing Rights Task Force, said Wednesday that urban evictions were “still a concerning issue for civil society” and said criticisms were not made without proof.
He said victims of eviction had complained to NGOs about their fears that they will lack basic services at relocation sites, which prompted them to provide recommendations for authorities.
“We admire the city’s development. But there are many challenges remaining for City Hall in dealing with poor people,” he said. “We do not want development only in the city centre.”