Prime Minister Hun Sen has announced continued operations to fill some lakes in Phnom Penh to create land for developments, though he is against the unrelated practice of damming rivers or blocking waterways.
Speaking at the inauguration of the Ministry of Public Works and Transport headquarters in the vicinity of the Boeung Tamok Lake in northern Phnom Penh on January 22, Hun Sen said the capital today is not just developing within the old city limits and that over time it has expanded from being 300sq km to over 700sq km.
The prime minister said he had grown weary of “repetitive” criticisms on the practice of filling lakes in Phnom Penh for development.
“Other countries fill in parts of the sea to use land for developments. Why is Cambodia always accused of being in the wrong? Jealousy?” he said.
He asked rhetorically why previous governments could fill in lakes such as Boeung Raing, Boeung Keng Kang and Boeung Prolit for development while his government is criticised for doing so.
“Now, let me ask all of you – at its founding, which parts of Phnom Penh were land and which were water? The whole city used to be lakes.
“Even my current house was built on a former lake. Independence Monument was built on a lake too. Practically every place in Phnom Penh was once a lake like Boeung Keng Kang and Boeung Raing,” he said.
“Why is it that back then they could fill in [lakes] but now they say I can’t do it? Let’s talk about that. We need development, so we fill the lakes for the sake of development. I wonder why it could be done in the previous generations but not in my generation.
“Having said that, I don’t agree to damming rivers or stopping the water from flowing, for example the Prek Tnaot River,” he said.
Hun Sen said he regrets the mistaken signing of a sub-decree related to Boeng Tamok Lake. The decree said the lake’s border would be determined by the water’s edge, but as he reviewed the maps he realised it would affect people’s dry season rice fields and thus he had decided he would continue to allocate the land to those citizens.
Soeng Sen Karuna, a senior investigator for rights group Adhoc, said he was not opposed entirely to the filling-in of some lakes for development but he urged the government to consider the impacts on society and the environment.
“It’s good for development, but the government should be thinking about a total solution that benefits the people and the environment and that provides infrastructure like drainage systems and sewage systems so that it all meets the approval of the people there,” he said.