Residents of the new Borei Keila complex say the buildings lack the intimacy and
convenience of their old community
HIV-positive Yi Sokny labors up the five flights of stairs to her new apartment in
Building A of the Borei Keila housing project.
People involved say the Borei Keila relocation scheme, once touted as an ideal method of handling relocations, has become tangled by the weight of corruption and mismanagement.
Because of her condition, Sokny, 40, had requested a first floor flat. Instead, she
was given one on the fifth floor through the municipality's lottery system.
"I feel a little weaker each time I climb the stairs," she said. "It's
comfortable and clean and modern in the apartment, but it's very difficult to climb
up and I'm worried about my health."
Sokny once lived on the site of the apartment building and made a living doing pedicures.
She said since moving in a month ago, she hadn't had a single customer.
"No one comes to the fifth floor," she said. "Now I have no way to
make a living."
Sokny is one of the first of 296 villagers from the Borei Keila settlement to take
up residence in Building A and B - the first of ten buildings to accommodate 1,776
families as part of the "on-site" land sharing development project. Many
of these families are now struggling to adapt to their new lives above ground, while
many apartments in the buildings remain empty with sources close to the development
claiming these have been illegally sold to third parties.
"It raises obvious questions about who got the apartments and if they were really
needy," Jason Barber, a consultant for local rights NGO Licadho said. "If
they are not living in the apartments then it is quite clear that they did not need
them. Only 200 meters away there are families living in squalor with a legitimate
claim to apartments and they're getting nothing."
A Borei Keila researcher who spoke to the Post on condition of anonymity confirmed
many of the empty apartments in the buildings had been sold or were up for rent.
The researcher, who has conducted extensive research into the Borei Keila community,
said under the agreement residents were prohibited from selling their apartments
for five years, but many had done so before the buildings were even built.
The researcher said there were three kinds of families who sold their apartments:
the very poor who felt they could not afford the service charges; others who thought
the development was a trick; and larger families who considered the flats too small.
The wealthy, the researcher said, bought additional apartments from the poor.
"At first the community was very united in their struggle but then at some point
the community leaders began to side with the authorities and the company," the
researcher said. "Many of the villagers believed their leaders colluded with
the company. Basically they were bought off."
Pierre Fallavier, UN-Habitat's advisor to the municipality, said he knew of at least
one community leader who had three apartments in the first two buildings.
"In these settlements not everyone is so poor. Some families are making money
from the other families and are doing quite well," said Fallavier. "In
many of these settlements the money the people pay into the community fund simply
disappears into the pockets of the officials. At the local level there is much corruption.
It's almost like an instinct. They simply have to take a cut."
Fallavier said such corruption posed major problems for the future of the Borei Keila
"The ground floor is meant to be used for small business purposes, with the
operators paying a rental fee that's to go into a fund for the maintenance and upkeep
of the buildings," Fallavier said. "The problem is that the fee will be
paid to the community leaders so there is no guarantee that it won't simply disappear.
We worry that these buildings could turn into high rise slums."
The buildings have housed families for only a month but already there are growing
piles of trash and graffiti in the stairwells.
Chea Hong Heng, 51, lives with his wife and eight children in an apartment on level
5 of Building A. He has constructed a loft made of bamboo in the one room apartment
to create more space for his family.
The apartment itself is spartan. One tap in the bathroom supplies water. There is
a toilet but no shower and the family wash from a large barrel. They have no electricity
and burn candles at night and cook on charcoal on the small balcony. Heng is a motodop
and earns around 10,000 riel per day. His wife used to sell groceries in front of
their house and earned up to 40,000 riel per day. They have now lost that income
and are worried about their future.
Eng Khim, 43, also lives on the fifth floor with her husband and five children. Her
mother did not come to live with her as before because she was too old to climb the
Khim had connected to the electricity of her neighbors but it costs her 1500 riel
per k/w, which she said was very expensive. The connection fee for electricity is
114,500 riel plus another $40 for the wires, which is prohibitively expensive for
many of the families in the building and most have no power at present.
Khim said the quality of the building was poor and the bathroom ceiling leaked. She
said the water only works at night but she didn't know why. She said all the people
above the third floor have trouble with the water pressure.
Khim's husband is a motodop and she was a dressmaker in her old home. She used to
earn up to 20,000 riel per day, but since moving into the building she has lost all
"We also used to sell small goods in front of our house and people would come
by and ask me to do this or that to their clothes but now there is nothing. Life
is more difficult than before because we have no business."
But Fallavier retains hope that the community will adapt to the new environment.
"They have only just moved in and there will be a period of adjustment,"
he said. "Many will manage it."