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‘Development’ a dirty word, survey finds

Community activists from Boeung Kak lake hold signs during a protest in Phnom Penh
Community activists from Boeung Kak lake hold signs during a protest in Phnom Penh in September last year, calling for the World Bank to reconsider a potential loan to Cambodia. Charlotte Pert

‘Development’ a dirty word, survey finds

After admitting there were “major problems” with its resettlement projects earlier this month, the World Bank has come under fire from Boeung Kak lake residents in a new report from a human rights group.

The report by the International Accountability Project (IAP), titled Back to Development, includes the results of interviews with 100 Boeung Kak evictees, the vast majority of whom reported being deeply unsatisfied with the bank’s view of “development”.

“For us and many other people in Cambodia, the Boeung Kak lake evictions have become a symbol of how the word ‘development’ is something to fear as a life-destroyer in our country,” said Sek Sokunroth, a member of the Boeung Kak lake community, who helped carry out the survey after receiving training from IAP.

Respondents did not understand how the luxury apartment complex planned for the site constituted “development” or why they had not been consulted about the plans. They also said a “culture of fear” followed the “widespread use of force” against residents, whose livelihoods did not improve after being compensated, and until today had made “no progress” towards land tenure security.

In a statement earlier this month, World Bank president Jim Yong Kim said the Bank had “found several major problems” with its resettlement policies.

“We haven’t done a good enough job in overseeing projects involving resettlement … we haven’t implemented those plans well enough … we haven’t put in place strong tracking systems to make sure that our policies were being followed. We must and will do better,” he said.

The bank is currently mulling new loans to Cambodia after an almost four-year hiatus since lending was suspended in 2011 amid fierce criticism over the Boeung Kak evictions.

It had intended to hold public consultations in late 2014 or early this year before approving a $25-million project, called LASED II, which could involve forced relocation. No such consultations have yet taken place.

Bou Saroeun, a World Bank spokesman, said the date for approving the LASED II project “remains to be determined”.

“It will be determined only after consultations are held in advance of the preparation of the upcoming Country Engagement Note. Those consultations have not yet been scheduled,” he said.

Sokunroth said the community remains “concerned”.

“We see that development focused only on high-level economic numbers and measures can make it seem like Cambodia is becoming richer, but then at the same time, so many citizens’ lives are being destroyed and impoverished.”

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