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Shukaku pushes forward at Boeung Kak

Local developer Shukaku will step up construction of its controversial Boeung Kak lake development project this month, beginning work on a drainage system and corporate office, a spokeswoman told the Post yesterday.

Quashing speculation the project had been abandoned, the company also said that it could have better managed the relocation process that led to some 20,000 people being evicted from Boeung Kak in 2008.

An updated master plan of Shukaku’s Phnom Penh City Centre project – an “eco-city” set to include hotels, housing, a business centre and more – was approved by City Hall this year, said Amu Pillay, the company’s head of corporate communications and public relations.

“There are no financial issues, and the main projects are well under way and on schedule,” Pillay told the Post. “The construction of drainage work will start in [December] 2014.… The entire drainage works is expected to complete by 2017.”

While a completion date has not been set for the entire project, a roads and utilities plan has also gained approval from City Hall, while a design for a “central park” will be drafted this month with a view toward building it next year, Pillay said.

“This clearly shows that we have progressed steadily within this year,” she said.

The revelation from a company that has previously dealt little with the media comes amid calls from the community and rights groups for authorities to release seven Boeung Kak lake women from Prey Sar prison.

The women were sentenced last month to one year in jail a day after they blocked the road outside City Hall in protest against the routine flooding of their homes. Four others, including one more woman from Boeung Kak, were tried and imprisoned a day after.

Buildings are demolished by excavators during forced evictions in Phnom Penh at the Boeung Kak lake community in 2010
Buildings are demolished by excavators during forced evictions in Phnom Penh at the Boeung Kak lake community in 2010. Touch Yin Vannith

Shukaku, chaired by ruling Cambodian People’s Party Senator Lao Meng Khin, began filling in Boeung Kak lake soon after it was awarded a 99-year lease of more than 100 hectares in the area in 2007.

Villagers at the edge of the former lake area say that flooding of their homes and businesses has been a continual problem since.

But Pillay said it was “ambiguous” how much Shukaku was to blame for any of the flooding, adding that City Hall needed to address wider drainage issues.

“[Our project] will not entirely solve the flooding issues of the surrounding lands because of the bottleneck where the old drainage systems connect to our new drainage systems,” she said. “Despite the efficiency of our drainage system, the rainwater will not be able to flow out effectively unless City Hall improves the external connecting system.”

Shukaku’s drainage would be built to US standards, she added.

City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said his authorities would work with Shukaku to connect the development to the public system, though studies were still being carried out to determine City Hall’s exact role in that process.

“City Hall has to cooperate with Shukaku,” he said.

“The drainage systems cannot work [separately]. I cannot tell you when construction will start, because we have many choices.”

Large-scale evictions from Boeung Kak helped fuel the Kingdom’s land-rights movement, and a number of women from the community remain very much at the centre of what has now become a broader rights activism.

Dozens of families are still awaiting land titles from City Hall after Prime Minister Hun Sen agreed in 2011 to carve out 12.44 hectares of Shukaku’s concession for evictees.

Pillay said that when Shukaku began planning its Boeung Kak project and considering the relocation of thousands of people, it didn’t have a “proper team to consider this matter or envisage the ramifications”.

Children rest in a pipe next to makeshift shelters in 2012 on the outskirts of Phnom Penh after their families were evicted from the Boeung Kak lake community to make way for development
Children rest in a pipe next to makeshift shelters in 2012 on the outskirts of Phnom Penh after their families were evicted from the Boeung Kak lake community to make way for development. Heng Chivoan

“[In] hindsight, we could have done better to manage the situation,” she said.

Shukaku, Pillay said, is now focused on the benefits that its completed development will bring to Phnom Penh.

“It is … designed to be an eco-city where the community can use the Central Park for recreation and enjoy the greenery,” she said. “It is meant to be a park where people can converge and organise community activities, which is clearly lacking in the current Phnom Penh landscape. Overall, this development will also create plenty of job opportunities.”

Shukaku officially launched its development in 2011, showcasing plans for a satellite city, business centre, department stores, conference halls, hotels and apartments.

The company partnered with Chinese company Erdos Hong Jun Investment to form the property development firm Shukaku Erdos. However, the firms parted ways, leading to rumours that the development was in doubt.

The two firms, Pillay said, had run into trouble when Erdos Hong Jun submitted a plan to build luxury homes – each worth between $4 million and $5 million – on almost 50 per cent of the land.

“[T]hey realised the project will run into financial chaos.… We were advised that the project will put us in financial ruin,” she said, adding the Chinese company eventually pulled out for “financial reasons” and the master plan was overhauled.

In response to the drainage development, Boeung Kak representative Chan Puthisak said yesterday that he welcomed anything that would stop houses being flooded but had heard nothing from Shukaku or City Hall.

“We’d be so happy if this system helped stop flooding … [but] our concerns with this drainage system are whether they build it to standard. I’m worried they just announce it, but it’s not a good system.”

Puthisak also urged City Hall to show the community any plans it has to improve drainage, something Dimanche declined to comment on.

“We are waiting to see their project,” Puthisak said.

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