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Koh Rong development plan tied up in red tape

An excavator works on the construction of a Royal Group port on Koh Rong island off the coast of Preah Sihanouk province in May. RFA
An excavator works on the construction of a Royal Group port on Koh Rong island off the coast of Preah Sihanouk province in May. RFA

Koh Rong development plan tied up in red tape

The Royal Group’s $30-million luxury resort on Koh Rong island will not be completed on schedule as the company has faced numerous port development issues and, according to company management, a snarl of red tape.

Royal Sands Koh Rong Resort, the first phase of tycoon Kith Meng’s massive development of an island 25 kilometres off the coast of Sihanoukville, has repeatedly come under scrutiny since it officially broke ground last December. The project was planned to be completed by the end of 2016.

“A few problems have come up so there has been a slowdown [in development],” said Kith Thieng, vice chairman and managing director of The Royal Group.

Chhun Buntha, vice chairman of Royal Sands Koh Rong Resort, said the project’s timeline was extended after a series of challenges by local government officials.

“So far, we have only built 10 villas, which only counts for just 10 per cent of our plan,” he said. “We have had to delay completion of the resort until sometime in 2017.”

Despite the project having full governmental approval and support, he said “problems have occurred with local officials because of their slow administrative policies and confusion over what has been approved.”

The project faced its first challenge in January when a government committee ordered the company to halt construction of a 40-metre-long jetty it was building on Sihanoukville’s Otres beach, citing violation of coastal development guidelines and lack of a permit. Then, just last week, government officials ordered a halt to construction of a port on Koh Rong after raising similar concerns.

The structures were intended for use by boats transporting guests to the island, as well as construction materials for the resort’s development.

According to Buntha, development of the port on Koh Rong was continuing despite the ban, but resort construction was behind schedule due to the difficulty of accessing construction materials.

Y Sokleng, Sihanoukville city governor, maintained yesterday that work on the Koh Rong port had been ordered to shut down until its environmental impact could be studied and its legality ascertained.

“The government has always supported this development because it creates jobs and will bring in more tourists,” he said. “However, we have to make sure that the construction does not have any negative impacts and is legal.”

Provincial governor Yun Min declined to comment over the postponement of the port or concerns over future delays of resort construction.

Ho Vandy, an adviser for the tourism industry to the Cambodia Chamber of Commerce, said that environmental concerns were primarily holding the project back.

“If the company can show that they are committed to protecting the coastline, there will be more flexibility from the government,” he said. “But if they can’t, I am apprehensive of their plan.”

However, Vandy added that with Royal Group being such a big company with numerous resources, it was only a matter of time before the project was completed.

“Once it is completed it will bring in a lot more tourists, because no other island can compete with the beauty of Koh Rong,” he said.

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