TWO companies linked to Cambodian People’s Party Senator Ly Yong Phat are among five that were granted economic land concessions requiring them to pay only US$1 per hectare in annual rent in exchange for development rights, according to newly discovered agreements with the government.
The contracts with the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries state that the five concessionaires must begin paying the “rental fees” five years after the concessions were awarded.
One of the firms linked to Ly Yong Phat, the Koh Kong Sugar Industry Company, is at the centre of a land dispute that erupted in violence in 2006 when security guards fired guns to repel villagers protesting against the destruction of orchards.
The other, the Kampong Speu Sugar Company, is owned by Ly Yong Phat’s wife, Kim Heang. It borders a 8,343-hectare concession granted to another of his holdings, the Phnom Penh Sugar Company, which is embroiled in a heated dispute with more than 1,000 families.
That dispute has led to three arrests this year. According to a recent field report from the rights group Adhoc, more than 1,000 families are expected to face food shortages this year after being denied access to their farmland.
Ouch Leng, a land programme officer for Adhoc, which first obtained the agreements, said he believed it was a common practice for concessionaires to be charged what amounts to a nominal fee in exchange for development rights.
But he said the companies should be forced to pay higher rates, considering the costs incurred by villagers forced from their land.
“The government is not helping villagers get a better standard of living, but causing them to become poorer and poorer,” Ouch Leng said.
“No other country in the world is renting land at such a cheap price as Cambodia.”
Ly Yong Phat was unavailable for comment yesterday.
Chhean Kimsuon, a representative of the Phnom Penh Sugar Company, said she could not discuss the financial arrangements between the firm and the government.
However, she said the land concession would ultimately be beneficial for locals, providing jobs to 300 people.
“We will provide a lot of jobs for villagers when our company is operating,” she said.
Officials at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries could not be reached for comment yesterday.