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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Locals ponder the price of a game of golf

Locals ponder the price of a game of golf

T he survey pegs are out for a $54 million golf course; local people are fishing,

and living, around them. Brian Anderson reports on what cost goes with one

of Asia's largest leisure industries.

Bang Ta Yab Lake is a quiet place. Tucked a stone's throw away to the northwest of

Phnom Penh University, it is largely a community of fisher-folk. Since 1985, following

a settlement program by the SoC government to ensure security in the area, it has

become something of a suburb for the working class of Phnom Penh.

Rumors of development have swirled for years among the moto-drivers, farmers, construction

workers, fisher-folk and merchants who live in the area.

Ban Him, a Buddhist lay clergyman sits on his front porch overlooking the lake. He

is whittling bamboo into legs for the banana tree votive offerings he uses for his

work in the local Wats. "I have been hearing from the wind that some company

will buy the land for this or that price," he says, "But nobody has ever

come."

This time though, the contract is signed.

The Royal Cambodian Country Club is coming. The marsh will be drained to create water

hazards on the golf course and the size of Bang Ta Yab will be reduced.

The game of golf is a bit of a mystery to all the people who are going to be asked

to leave.

Khau Menghean, Vice Governor of Phnom Penh Municipality says that the development

company, the Cambodia Leisure Investment Company (LTD) will be taking care of the

environmental impact study.

"They will do this work. They have to make sure that during the rainy season

the land does not flood because they could lose millions of dollars."

He said that he did not know about the possible effects of the pesticide and herbicide

runoff on the surrounding marshland fisheries and that work should start before the

end of the year.

Which means that many of the people in and around the lake will have to move.

According to Ban Him, it will be the second time that he has had to make way for

development.

In 1961 he owned a house on Kampuchea Krom Blvd. When 60 houses were cleared to widen

the road he and the other families were given a choice of three relocation sites.

He chose a plot of land 10 by 15 meters on this marshy edge of Bang Ta Yab and bought

three neighboring plots from others who had been given land.

"I carried earth one boatload at a time for 13 years to build up the land to

farm here," he says.

"Then for three years, eight months and 20 days during the Khmer Rouge time

I was away. When I came back it was like a jungle, and my house was destroyed. We

worked to clear the land, and then again for another 10 years I carried earth to

make land for my farm."

He says he trusts the municipality to compensate him for his land.

"I will not oppose the government plan as long as they give me land or money

to buy some," he says, "but I farm to make a living so I must have land

to grow my papaya and guava, my pumpkins and bananas. If they have a property solution

I will leave."

This sentiment is echoed by many around the lake.

Yin Saroeun, the chief since 1982 of Tum Nub village on the south end of the lake

says that they are only asking for something from the government so that they can

resettle elsewhere.

But he is worried.

"When the government people came they said this land belonged to the government

and the people had been living here illegally. About five months ago they put out

posts to mark the area, but they have never talked about compensation or where the

villagers could move to."

Although land title problems are an extremely thorny problem stemming from 25 years

of conflict involving radical approaches to property ownership, Saroeun says that

today "you cannot blame one party, but rather the government, which is made

up of two main parties. They are all responsible for their people."

The question of compensation is complex too.

According to an official at the Russey Keo District office of the Phnom Penh Municipal

Land Title Office, the documents he has say that there are basically four classes

of people who claim ownership to the land. There are 72 families that have applied

for land titles but do not as yet have them; 49 live nearby and claim to own farming

areas but are not actually living on the land; 109 live far away but claim land in

the development area, three of those families own legal plots; 185 families "just

point at he land and say it is theirs," he says.

"When the people settled in the area they considered themselves legal without

consideration for the government," the official said.

"Up until now there has not been an official meeting to discuss compensation

for the families."

In unofficial talks though, he said: "There doesn't seem to be any solution

to the problem of compensation. Some of the 72 families will probably get a little

bit, but it is not clear yet which or how much."

Vice Governor Menghean sees the project as a boost to the economy, with up to 300

jobs created initially and possibly up to 1000 when all the phases are complete.

The plans call for a 27 hole golf course, a hotel, two areas for individual houses

in addition to restaurants, with the possibility for expansion.

"The people in the area can change their standard of living," Menghean

says.

"They can make small markets or go to work at the club to improve their standard

of living with a steady salary and a good job."

He also points out the lack of facilities for tourists and foreign businessmen in

Phnom Penh.

"In Siem Reap they can see Ankor Wat. But in Phnom Penh were will they go? We

need a boating club, golf courses, many things to develop the country. How many golf

courses are there in Bangkok?"

And as for the people making a subsistence living on the marshes, Menghean says:

"You know we have a lot of social problems in this city. We have many problems

with squatters. These people came there illegally. Some of them came to live there

just to make money from the government when they go. Some of them have put in applications

for title to the land and have receipts for the applications.

They think these are legal and some are even selling the land with these receipts.

But these are just receipts for the applications and not title to the land. They

only have temporary occupation permits. In all the western countries too you must

have legal title to the land to own it."

Suon Ngeth, 31, a rice merchant, brings out his receipt from the Russey Keo District

Land Title Office. It is dated 22 June 1990. He says he can get title to his land

at any time with this receipt, and that he was told by municipality and district

officials that the receipt was "legal enough" because it showed that the

holder was living on the land.

"They did not tell us that we should wait to get the actual title," he

said, adding that there were a number of people living illegally in the area.

Compensation, according to Ngeth, was a hot topic among the people who live near

the new development.

"I work for the government as a village sub-chief so I will have to depend on

the opinion of the people about compensation," he said.

Ngeth said that when government officials came around to survey the land and its

occupants the villagers asked for about $15 per square meter on average, and that

the officials said they would consider it.

Those considering the matter are some of the more wealthy and powerful men in Cambodia

and the region. According to Vice Governor Menghean, the CDC, Prince Rannaridh and

the Phnom Penh Municipality have all approved the project.

The Cambodian partner, holding a 50 percent stake in the $54 million project, is

Hor Sim Leang, a local businessman who owns the Green Hotel on Norodom Blvd., a Japanese

restaurant and a number of other businesses in chemicals, timber, rubber, and other

trading companies.

He is also a newly elected member of the Chamber of Commerce in Agriculture.

His partner Chan Yean Fock, is a Singaporan businessman who according to Sim Leang

owns or controls a list of 80 companies that reads like a map of Asia. His interests

include a $100 million hotel complex in Indonesia, and the Maya group, with business

in construction, manufacturing and import/export, among many others.

Chan's family is also heavily involved in shipping, with a fleet of more than 60

ships.

Sim Leang said he expected the project to be completed in about 18 months, but that

it would be smaller than originally planned. "We wanted to buy out the people

along the road but they asked for too much money: sometimes $50 per square meter.

It was too much so we decided to make the project about 15 hectares smaller."

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