Over allegations of an illegal sale of public land around the fresh water reservoir of Prek Tup Lake, Sihanoukville’s Provincial Department of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction director Hun Phy, will ‘retire early’.
Prek Tup Lake was once one of the biggest water reservoirs in Sihanoukville Province but has mostly been filled up with sand, according to a local ADHOC official.
Phy, who was given the director’s position in March 2014 to replace So Sok, who allegedly refused to follow the previous governors’ wishes to divide up the land surrounding the lake, has come under scrutiny after the lake has quickly diminished.
Now it seems, director Hun Phy will quit service ahead of schedule in the middle of this month, and his deputy, Nuon Bok, will step up to fill the vacancy, according to a civil servant who asked to not be named.
According to the civil servant, this is not the first time that local officials have exploited the lake, including former governor Sboung Sarath who purportedly controls more than six hectares of land in the former reservoir area.
Cheap Sotheary, Sihanoukville’s ADHOC official, said that after the lake was allegedly filled in with sand following numerous sales, there has been no progress in holding officials accountable for diminishing Sihanoukville’s fresh water reserve.
Sotheary added that in the past, only 51 families around the lake held land titles, but since Hun Phy entered office, the land is now claimed by around 200 families without legal recognition.
“Prek Tup Lake used to be about 100 hectares, but now, its size is only 15 hectares due to the systematic corruption of the related ministers, rich families, and the powerful people’s hunger to possess this lake as their own.”
Sotheary added that this lake has long been an important source for residents, especially in the dry season when taps can run dry. In 2013, Sihanoukville faced a water shortage that lasted almost a week.
”If the whole lake is filled [with sand], people won’t have any water to use,” she said.
Ek Vithean, a local representative for the community around the lake, agreed with Sotheary.
“The authorities have been taking over the Prek Tup Lake land for many years. And an agreement was made by dividing the profits and benefits from land sales between the former governor, local officials and local police,” he said. At the same time, he added that those who had legitimate claims to land ownership have been denied titles.
“We own a piece of land that we can barely build a house on. We live in fear because we have been threatened by the authorities who want to take over our land and our village,” Vithean said.
Seng Lot, spokesman for the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, said he was not aware of Phy’s being replaced, but added the director had reached his retirement age.
The spokesman vouched for Phy’s character, saying he was a good man who obeyed the law.
Phy could not be reached for comment.