Civil society organisations (CSOs) working on the environment and human rights have expressed concern about filling parts of Boeung Tamok Lake to create new parcels of land on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.
Located in Prek Pnov district’s Kouk Roka commune, Boeung Tamok, also known as Kob Srov Lake, is the largest lake remaining within the municipal borders with an area of more than 3,000ha.
Over the past few months the government has decided to fill parts of the lake to create land to be granted for various projects including establishing a public garden and park; a new building for the National Police, and an office building for the Ministry of Justice.
The CSOs said filling the lake might pose a danger to the environment, jeopardise people’s livelihoods, and increase flooding.
However, government officials say that before deciding to fill parts of the lake, a specialised inter-ministerial committee had studied the impacts thoroughly and concluded they would be minimal.
The CSOs’ concerns came after the Council of Ministers issued a letter on December 24 announcing that 20ha of the Boeung Tamok Lake was allocated to Lun Hak and Chhun Chanthy in exchange for a plot of land co-owned by the two near the council in Daun Penh district’s Srah Chak commune.
Signed by Council of Ministers secretary of state Ken Satha, the letter said the 1,571sqm plot co-owned by Hak and Chanthy will be used to build a three-storey security command measuring 21.7m by 42m. The command serves to protect the country’s leaders and foreign delegates at the council.
It will take 18 months for this security command to be completed after receiving permission from the government to begin construction.
The letter, which was published by local media outlets, also said the state will take responsibility for transferring the property, taxes and other services, so the developers won’t be obligated to pay those costs.
Am Sam Ath, deputy director of rights group Licadho, said on December 29 that the filling of natural lakes such as Boeung Choeung Ek, Boeung Tompun, Boeung Kak and especially the largest lake in the capital, Boeung Tamok, would increase the incidence of rain-induced flooding and possibly impact the environment.
“The government should have conducted an objective and transparent study before deciding to fill any lakes because we are worried about the environmental impacts and rain-induced floods in Phnom Penh.
“We’ve noted that over the last several years, there have been more rain-induced floods in Phnom Penh and they have increased in severity.
“The filling of natural lakes should be avoided, if possible, because the lakes absorb rainwater which prevents flooding and they also help the environment,” he said.
NGO Forum executive director Tek Vannara said on December 29 that the government should have made the plans for these development projects public and assessed impacts in the Boeung Tamok area in more detail.
Furthermore, he said the government should have made this information known earlier so that CSOs and concerned citizens would be able to examine the plans and provide their insights or commentary.
“As civil society organisations, we want the government to show us an assessment of the environmental impacts in advance so that we could advise them on how best to avoid or minimise them.
“Eventually, the government will turn to CSOs for their ideas on how to revise their development strategies to reduce harm to the environment, and eventually they’ll need to solve the flooding problems in Phnom Penh, but some of these problems could have been prevented by consulting with us before proceeding rather than after,” he said.
Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction spokesman Seng Lot and Phnom Penh Municipal Hall spokesman Meth Meas Pheakdey could not be reached for comment on December 29.
But government spokesman Phay Siphan said on December 29 that an inter-ministerial committee made up of representatives from the ministries of land management, Economy and Finance, and Environment had held several meetings before making a collective decision to go ahead with the plans.
The land has been allocated to private individuals but in the interests of the state, he explained.
“We welcome constructive criticism, but at the end of the day they aren’t the ones serving the nation [as decision makers]. If there’s something they know that we don’t, they should try to inform us. But instead of working with the government to solve problems, they prefer to issue public statements that are critical [of our plans].
“I thank them for their feedback, but they should look into what measures the government has taken in response [to these concerns] first,” he said.