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Pros outweigh cons in plan to transform Preah Sihanouk: study

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Ongoing construction in Preah Sihanouk province, in December. Heng Chivoan

Pros outweigh cons in plan to transform Preah Sihanouk: study

Officials and researchers on June 29 threw their full support behind a master plan to transform the coastal Preah Sihanouk province into a Model Multi-Purpose Special Economic Zone (SEZ) after a new study found that the positives outweighed the negatives in terms of the impact of Sihanoukville’s urban development and socio-economic changes on national economic development.

This consensus was reached at a virtual Policy Talk on “Sihanoukville Urban Development, Socio-Economic Change, and Transformation in the era of Covid-19”, where the Center for Khmer Studies (CKS) presented their latest study.

Thuon Try, a senior researcher at the CKS who joined the event, told The Post that among the general population interviewed for the study, most voiced support for the master plan.

He said the study aimed to gather the views, opinions and experience of locals surrounding Sihanoukville’s development, and while it received lots of positive feedback, there were also some negatives that the CKS’ research team has advised the authorities on.

Correspondents brought up general issues relating to human capital development and voiced concerns over less-than-warm relations between authorities and locals, he said, suggesting more cooperation with civil society, development partners and the private sector.

Try affirmed that his team supports the master plan, but added that its success also “hinges on the political relations of the two countries [Cambodia and China], because if political-economic relations are not good, the master plan cannot move forward”.

Preah Sihanouk provincial deputy governor Long Dimanche said that while all developments have their upsides and downsides, the authorities do what they can to minimise negative impacts and ensure ample benefits for the public.

He stressed that provincial authorities have “never” overlooked recommendations from research or civil society partners, or any national or international organisation, and reserve the right to decide which of them to pursue.

“In general, we’ve seen a bunch of these negative impacts so far, and we’ve addressed them. This CKS report is a mirror that reflects all of that, but that doesn’t mean we accept everything, because this survey, although conducted in a scientific manner, does not necessarily reflect the story of every citizen,” Dimanche said.

In October, the Ministry of Economy and Finance awarded a master plan consultancy contract to a top Chinese institute for the development and transformation of Preah Sihanouk into a Model Multi-Purpose SEZ, Southeast Asia’s next logistics and resort hub and innovation centre.

The master plan will also serve as a key roadmap to develop the provincial capital Sihanoukville into a “second Shenzhen city”, in line with the implementation of the Industrial Development Policy 2015-2025.

Anticipated to take around 18 months, development will be divided into four major phases – Phase 1: Data Collection and Site Survey; Phase 2: Assessment and Proposal; Phase 3: Preparation of Master Plan; and Phase 4: Completion of the Master Plan Project.

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