LARGE portions of the city’s Boeung Kak lakeside have been reclassified as state private property under the joint control of City Hall and the local company behind the controversial filling of the lake, according to a recent sub-decree.
The document, signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen on July 20, states that 126.85 hectares of the lake and its surroundings are to be “considered as a state private property for Shukaku Inc Company to develop based on the government’s purpose”.
“The area mentioned above is legally managed and controlled by related Ministries and Phnom Penh Municipal Hall with the cooperation of Shukaku Inc Co Ltd,” the sub-decree states. Unlike state public land, which includes lakes, rivers, roads and parks, state private land can be legally leased or sold to companies or individuals.
In February 2007, Shukaku, an obscure local firm owned by Cambodian People’s Party Senator Lao Meng Khin, signed a lease agreement with the municipality giving it the right to develop the lakeside, then a state public property. The following year, it began filling in the lake to make way for a 133-hectare housing and commercial development at the lakeside. Housing rights advocates say that more than 4,000 families will be displaced by the project.
Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Pa Socheatvong confirmed that the area contained in the sub-decree had been classified as state private land for some time, but did not give any reason for the reclassification.
“Before [the lake] was state public land, so government could not rent it to a private company to develop it. They have to reclassify it as state private land in order that the private company gets the legal right to develop that area,” he said.
The recent sub-decree followed a similar subdecree issued in August 2008, which also claimed to have reclassified the lake as state private land.
David Pred, executive director of Bridges Across Borders Cambodia, said yesterday that the new sub-decree – like the earlier sub-decree – was an attempt to provide “retrospective legal cover” for the 2007 lease agreement.
“The state did not have the right to lease the lake and surrounding land at that time, because the lake is state public property, which cannot be subject to long-term leases,” he said. He said that many of the lakeside families had a legal right to their land.
Pred also described the new sub-decree as “puzzling” in that it referred to 126 hectares rather than the 133 hectares that were leased in 2007.
“This may be an indication that the Council of Ministers recognises some of the land that was originally leased to Shukaku as private land,” he said, and called on the Council to disclose to residents the exact boundaries of the development area.
“Those who fall outside those boundaries should be given land titles without further delay,” he added.
Representatives of Shukaku Inc could not be reached for comment yesterday. The company’s office address, as listed in the Yellow Pages, is an empty lot on Street 114, and the phone number connects to a restaurant in another part of the city.
Duy Thov, deputy secretary general of the Council for the Development of Cambodia, declined to comment.