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ANZ mulling payout to sugar project victims

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People involved in a land dispute with Phnom Penh Sugar in Kampong Speu protest at ANZ in Phnom Penh in 2014. Pha Lina

ANZ mulling payout to sugar project victims

The victims of Ly Yong Phat’s Phnom Penh Sugar Company development project in Kampong Speu province’s Oral district said they are “happy” to hear that ANZ Bank had declared to the Australian Parliamentary Committee that it would consider compensating those affected by the project.

ANZ executive director Shayne Elliot said during an October 26 Australian Parliamentary Committee conference that the bank had provided financing to build a refinery, not to seize plantation land.

“The bank will consider compensation for the affected. The profit on something like that would have been quite [minimal], but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do the right thing,” Elliott said.

A report by rights groups claimed Phnom Penh Sugar received a $40 million loan from ANZ joint venture the ANZ Royal Bank in 2011 forced 681 families off their farming land to make way for a sugar plantation and refinery in Kampong Speu province, employing child labourers working in dangerous conditions.

A representative of the victims, Khon Khorn, 60, from Oral district’s Trapaing Chor commune, told The Post on Wednesday that though the bank has not confirmed the date it will pay the compensation, the gesture shows that ANZ Bank is responsible and willing to solve the matter for her community.

“According to [Shayne Elliott’s] declaration, we, the victims, are happy even though the compensation is not going to be as much as we expect. At least it will help reduce the problems affecting our livelihood,” she said.

She continued that her community is currently living under poor conditions, with most of them owing money to banks and microfinance institutions following eviction from their farmlands.

“We want the bank to calculate the compensation as soon as possible because we need it to pay debts and open small businesses to earn [a living],” said another victim of the project Soeung Sokhum.

Equitable Cambodia executive director Eang Vuthy appealed to ANZ Bank to create a “clear plan” to appease the community, observing the processes of similar sugar factory development projects in the Kingdom.

“At least, they should pay attention to what they have done to the community through this investment project."

“It is a good thing that they now admit the problem, but recognition alone is not enough, they need to pay compensation to the people,” he said.

The Australian National Contact Point (AusNCP), a Treasury body that receives complaints against companies operating overseas, issued a statement on October 25 critical of ANZ for violating its own policies and international human rights standards when it provided the loan.

The AusNCP statement said it is difficult to reconcile ANZ’s decision to take on Phnom Penh Sugar as a client with its own internal policies and procedures.

“There arguably should have been substantial questions and concerns in the minds of the ANZ credit decision makers,” it said.

Meanwhile, the Australia and New Zealand Banking Group said its cash profit on an ongoing basis was off five per cent to A$6.49 billion (US$4.6 billion) in the full year to September 30.

But including discontinued operations, profit fell 16 per cent to A$5.8 billion, while statutory net profit was flat at A$6.4 billion.

The result came after a series of investments designed to simplify ANZ activities, including the sale of businesses in a number of Asian countries and its life insurance arm.

It also followed a scathing royal commission report that accused ANZ and Australia’s other main banks of widespread misconduct, including providing dodgy financial and life insurance advice and mortgage fraud.

Additional reporting by AFP

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