Rights groups are uncertain controversial Boeung Kak project will meet the standards of its own environmental report
Rubbish chokes the fringes of Boeung Kak lake in this file photo. Developer Shukaku Inc says the pollution of the lake is one reason for its reclamation for a housing and commercial project.
SHUKAKU Inc, the local developer filling in Phnom Penh's Boeung Kak lake as part of a commercial and housing development, has manipulated its own environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) to justify construction, say local housing rights groups.
The Shukaku impact study, a 55-page extract of which has been obtained by the Post, highlights some of the challenges arising from the 133-hectare project but provides broad justification for the decision to fill the lake with sand dredged from the Tonle Sap, a process that has come under fire from urban architects who fear it will increase flooding in the city.
According to the study, the filling of the lake "will not cause any negative effect" since the body of water "does not play a role as a natural lake [or] bio-fishery".
It also states the development will end what it calls "Silent Death" - diseases resulting from vegetables grown in the polluted waters - and argues that the lake was being reclaimed, in either case, by a flood of rural migrants.
Among its recommendations, the report states that "the company has to allocate [a] budget for environmental management implementation".
However, housing rights advocates have dismissed the argument that filling in the lake constitutes effective environmental management.
"It's a completely false argument," said Hallam Goad, advisor to housing rights advocacy group Sahmakum Teang Tnaut.
"The lake is polluted, for sure - partly through human effluent and partly through other kinds of waste materials - but you need to clean the lake, not fill it in."
Goad also criticised sections of the report that claim the development "will not cause negative impacts to infrastructure systems", or that it "will improve the traffic system in Phnom Penh" and attract up to US$2 billion worth of investment.
"All I can see is that the $2 billion is the value of the real estate they will create by filling in the lake, which will go straight into their own pockets. In comparison to the key open space in the city, it doesn't make any sense at all," he said.
A legal requirement
Tea Chup, an undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Environment, said that developers were required by law to conduct an impact study prior to beginning construction on projects, and that the results from the Boeung Kak study has been sent to the ministry for review.
But one of the more contested segments of the study relates to what it refers to as public consultation and awareness, pledging that the company "will conduct public consultations in 2008" and that "project information and [the] ESIA report will be posted on and accessible from the website".
Members of the Save Boeung Kak campaign have long maintained exactly the opposite - that information about the project has been notoriously difficult to obtain - casting doubts on the independence and accuracy of the impact study's findings.
"[The ESIA] was not independent at all," said David Pred, country director of Bridges Across Borders, an international human rights organisation.
"There was no transparent bidding process for the project itself, let alone the ESIA. As far as I know, it was conducted by the company. It has their name on it."
But Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Pa Socheatvong said the study had involved local and international NGOs, and denied that it had been withheld. "It can't be said that we did not release the report," he said in an interview with the Post on September 22.
"It's just that our release was narrow, and it might be that people were not interested at the time."
The reclamation was suspended earlier this week due to flooding in the city's Russey Keo district, but municipal officials denied the filling had anything to do with the floods.