Department of Construction Director Lao Tip Seiha explains the process for commencing a construction project and says most Cambodian builders are already in compliance with the law
Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Department of Construction Director Lao Tip Seiha says that Ministry of Land Management officials are determined to stamp out corruption in the building permit process.
LAO Tip Seiha, 37, one of the youngest high-level officials at the Ministry of Land Management, earned a master's degree in architecture at Phnom Penh's Royal University of Fine Arts in 1998 and is completing his thesis for his PhD at the Royal Academy of Cambodia.
Now a director of the Department of Construction within the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, he spoke to Prime Location recently about the policies behind Cambodia's construction law and its enforcement.
Under the construction law, how do builders go about applying for permits for a home or other construction project?
That's a very important question. First, they have to ask for information at the office of the Department of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction for their city or province and complete the forms provided pursuant to the requirements of the construction law. For the city of Phnom Penh, for instance, they have to go to the municipal department as well as to the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction.
What are the principles behind the construction law?
We want to protect all who wish to build and we want to improve the quality of their construction projects. We want to see plans for proper design and safety. The Ministry of Land Management wants everyone to follow and clearly understand the construction law. We want everyone doing business in the construction sector to respect the regulations regarding the urbanisation of Cambodia.
How difficult is it to apply and obtain approval for a lawful construction project?
It is not complicated and not too difficult to apply now because Cambodian people understand well how to ask - they never have a problem, at least according to my research, because the Ministry of Land Management has been conducting a campaign to educate people on the the construction law aimed at helping people more easily understand.
It's important to note that those who want to build must have complete documentation of project architecture and engineering, land titles, and Khmer identity cards.
We are mandated to 'inspect and control' construction projects....
if we find projects proceeding without permits, we will stop them.
How long does it take from the time a developer applies to get permission from the relevant land management authorities?
It doesn't take that long to get a licence to build a home or other construction project. Following the law, you first have to get approval from the office of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction. This can usually be obtained within five working days. Secondly, you apply for approval from the Department of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, which is granted within 25 days, and then you get final approval from the Ministry of Land Management within 15 days. So, it's only a 45-day process to be in compliance with the basic law and supporting regulations.
Does the Ministry of Land Management inspect projects for which they have granted licences?
Oh, yes! We are mandated to "inspect and control" construction projects when they apply to us for permits, and we also ask land management officials to inspect construction in the field. In particular, the authorities monitor the situation to avoid construction projects from having undue impact on their neighbors. If the ministry finds construction projects proceeding without permits, we will stop them immediately.
Doesn't that suggest that many Cambodians still don't clearly understand how to seek lawful permits under the construction law?
That's hard to say, but only a small number of Cambodians don't understand. When complaints are brought against those who are building against the law, it's generally not because they don't understand. It usually means that they have been remiss or unwilling to try to understand the process for applying for permission under the construction law.
How is the law itself organised?
The Law of Management and Planning of Urban Construction was passed by the National Assembly on August 10, 1994. There are 50 articles governing the process of applying for and granting building permits. These articles are based on Royal subdecree No 86. This sub-decree was adopted by the ministry in December 1997. Anyone who wants to build has to comply with this law.
What are the fees and costs involved in complying with the law?
The authorities of land management have been been basing their charges on the square metre so that, for larger projects, we charge more, and for smaller projects we charge less. For example, for a 100-square-metre project, there's a fee of 120,000 riels (US$30) and for projects of 3,000 to 4,000 square metres, the fee charged would be 308,000 to 320,000 riels ($77-$80). For a 6,000-square-metre, we would charge fees of 860,000 riels ($215). These amounts are consistent with what is authorised by law and no other hidden costs are levied.
What problems are caused when projects are built without permission?
Oh! It's hard to say and I could go on and on about this situation, but I'll gave you a sentence. Those who fail to respect the construction law in Cambodia are harming the entire sector and causing losses of profits to everyone.
Some contractors have complained that the land management authorities are corrupt and seek kickbacks when permits are sought. What do you say to this?
It is true that this situation exists. But the ministry respects the law and will respond to such complaints every time. If we know that local land management authorities have been corrupt, we will punish them. I will announced by the Post that, if someone apply for permits under the construction law encounters this problem, they should please go directly to a ministry land management specialist. We are waiting to help you.