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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Graft slows construction projects

Graft slows construction projects

Both the public and public officials need an education in the building permit process, say experts, who also are calling for greater procedural transparency to prevent corruption and delays

REAL estate developers and contractors are complaining that corrupt officials are creeating a bottleneck in obtaining licences for construction projects, particular now that economic times are tougher.

Leav Vanny, project manager of Kaing Meng City, said that his company has faced huge problems every time his company has sought a licence to build apartments.

"To get a lawful permit is difficult and takes a long time and a lot of cash to relevant authorities," said Leav Vanny. "The company has spent a lot of money on the authorities."

Tang Molyvann, vice president of the Mong Reththy Group, said that he knew of some projects that had faced protracted processes and additional expense to obtain necessary building permits, but he did not blame corrupt authorities.  Usually, the delays were caused by the highly technical nature of many larger projects, he said, suggesting that Ministry of Land Mangement personnel generally lacked the expertise to deal with these sorts of projects.

Ignorant officials

He did blame these same officials for being lax in improving their skill levels and said the matter was a real concern for property owners.

"I worry a great deal about the quality of Cambodian construction in the future," Tang Molyvann said. He refused to comment on the issue of possible corruption within the ministry, but added, "I think that probably, if you can pay more, you can get a licence faster."

He criticised ministry officials who claimed that they would put a halt to construction projects that proceed without being licensed, saying that enforcement generally amounted to just issuing a letter.

"The Ministry of Land Management shuts down [unlawful] construction projects only on paper. They never go down directly into the field", Tang Molyvann said.

They sometimes sit on

documents for a year.... if you pay more, you will get it fast; if not,

it will take a long time.

"I don't want to complain about the ministry too much," he added. "I want to complain about the Khmer people, too, because they don't want to try and know about issues in the construction law and how to seek permits."
He urged the government to promulgate transparent procedures to let the public know how to apply for construction permits.

Lan Sinnara, deputy director of Cambodia Estate Agents, said that land management authorities lacked respect for the public.

"They sometimes sit on documents for a year when people seek construction permits," Lan Sinnara said. "If you pay more, you will get it fast; if not, it'll take a long time."

He noted, however, that for major  construction projects, there weren't significant problems, but smaller construction projects faced numerous hurdles and too many problems in obtaining permits.

Yim Sovann of the Ministry of Health, Social, Labour and Women's Affairs said that the administrative system was bureaucratic and complex and that the authorities generally sought to extract money from people.

"Some officials are corrupt because their salaries are too low,"  said Yim Sovann.

"If they keep doing this, it will impact on Cambodian economic development and influence foreign investors who might want to do business in the Cambodian construction section sector."

Lost opportunities to attract foreign investment could be significant, he warned.

He said that the government must get serious about this issue, put a halt to corruption and respond to public complaints.

Ignoring the complaints

Three Cambodian individuals have complained to land management authorities that it is very difficult to obtain permits without expending large amounts of time and money.

Prom Sophal, 37, applied for a permit to build a house and said process was complex and time-consuming.

"I spent far too long - more than two months - to get permission to build a house and I also paid extra money to them on the side. I don't know how they work," he said.

Ngy Sophorn, 46, and Soun Vichet, 52, report that they confronted similar problems.

"They asked me for much more money and took a long time to complete the process," Sophorn told Prime Location this week.

Lao Tip Seiha, director of the Department Construction of the Ministry of Land Management, disagrees that it is difficult to obtain permits, or that the process requires additional expenditures in time and money.

"It's not true," Lao Tip Seiha said.

"They talk like this, but the ministry tries very hard to promote compliance with the construction law among the Cambodian people and helps members of the public everyday in trying to understand the process," he said.

"They don't know how complex the rules are to apply."

He pointed out that the amount of illegal construction in Cambodia had fallen because the public and people doing business in the construction sector had come to respect the construction law.

Ignorance of the law

 "It's hard to say when someone knows they have to obtain a permit but still violate the law and don't bother to apply for a permit, and when someone just doesn't know about the law", Lao Tip Seiha said.

He told Prime Location that if someone wanted to ask permission to build, they should go directly to the land management authorities because they are professional and want to help.

He reminded people if they went ahead and built in violation of the construction law, the project would be stopped and they would be penalised.



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