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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
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
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."