Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Details murky on Koh Pich dredge

Details murky on Koh Pich dredge

Details murky on Koh Pich dredge

3 koh pich
A man looks out over land that is being reclaimed at Koh Pich yesterday in Phnom Penh. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

Even as bulldozers slowly pushed freshly dredged sand into the Tonle Bassac yesterday, expanding Phnom Penh’s Koh Pich, developers and officials could say little about the massive project slated to occupy the new space – a 555-metre tower that would be the tallest in Asia, and second-tallest in the world.

Announced in 2010, and championed by the prime minister himself, development appeared to have stalled until earlier this year when expansion of the island began.

But city official could not provide details, nor could the Overseas Investment Corp, the project’s developer, or real estate insiders. The various parties have differed on whether there even was such a project, construction for which, OCIC says, is under way and proceeding apace.

“We are doing it according to the master plan delineated by the government,” said OCIC project manager Touch Samnang, who maintained that the dredging taking place was properly permitted, and declined to comment further.

Municipality spokesman Long Dimanche, however, said he knew nothing of the project, despite Phnom Penh governor Kep Chuktema announcing its upcoming groundbreaking in 2011.

Likewise, Department of Land Management spokesman Beng Hong Socheat Khemro said: “If they don’t know, we don’t know either,” adding that he couldn’t remember if the department had issued a permit for the construction or not.

Workers at the site seemed confident, meanwhile, telling the Post about the enormous building – which would be second only to Dubai’s 828-metre Burj Khalifa in height – as they watched earthmovers fill in an area that jutted some 200 to 300 metres into the Tonle Bassac.

On the subject of sand dredging, Projects Department deputy director Chheang Hong of the National Mekong Committee declined to comment, calling the matter “a sensitive question”, involving decisions by multiple ministries.

Though observers have been sceptical in the past of the project’s feasibility, Peter Roche, a former construction manager for Emirati construction giant Al Habtoor, said that, structurally, a 555-metre-tall structure built on sand was “perfectly viable . . . but whether economically it makes sense is the $64,000 question”.

“Well, it’s perfectly feasible . . . They’ve done it in Dubai,” he said, referring to the huge, sail-shaped Burj Al Arab hotel, which Al Habtoor helped construct. “If you’ve got more money than sense, [the Burj Al Arab] is a perfect example of it.”

“I’m sure every big construction company in the world would be preparing themselves to bid for it,” he added.

But Cheng Kheng, head of the real estate professional body the Cambodian Valuers and Estate Agents Association, said that, to the contrary, there was little buzz at all.

“This one, I believe was announced by the prime minister,” he said, adding that he knew nothing more of the project. “Ever since the prime minister announced it, so far, nobody is talking about that.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY DAVID BOYLE

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