Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Land minister latest to tell White Building residents to vote CPP

Land minister latest to tell White Building residents to vote CPP

Minister of Land Management Chea Sophara (third from right) speaks to residents of Phnom Penh’s White Building on Friday.
Minister of Land Management Chea Sophara (third from right) speaks to residents of Phnom Penh’s White Building on Friday. Heng Chivoan

Land minister latest to tell White Building residents to vote CPP

Land Management Minister Chea Sophara doubled down on controversial remarks recently made by local officials, suggesting he could expedite redevelopment plans for the White Building only as long as the Cambodian People’s Party was re-elected in the upcoming commune elections.

Speaking to residents on Friday, Sophara echoed statements made by the community’s two village chiefs – Hun Sarath and Ngem Sovan – who informed residents on Thursday that a quick resolution to the longstanding issue of residents’ eviction was linked to the ruling party’s fortunes in the June ballot.

Sophara urged voters to remain with the CPP, and suggested that he would be unable to work with officials from any other party should they emerge victorious in the upcoming poll.

“The commune chief is from CPP and I am from CPP,” he told the 500-strong group. “I can support the CPP, but cannot support any other party.”

Some residents interviewed on Thursday said that after the village chiefs’ exhortations to vote CPP, they were worried that picking an opposition candidate would hurt their chances for a speedy compensation process. Other residents, meanwhile, along with observers and opposition members, panned the remarks for inappropriately politicising the issue at all.

The latest attempt to redevelop the White Building site involves a $70 million plan to raze the iconic structure and replace it with a 21-storey mixed-use building.

Japanese firm Arakawa Co will develop the project, which will keep aside five floors for residents who chose to return to the site after construction. The firm will have 14 floors of residential units to sell privately.

Sophara was present on Friday to ask villagers to choose one of two compensation packages: selling their apartments and relinquishing their claim to one of the new units, or being relocated during construction and later returning to take apartments in the new building.

While an initial ministry survey showed that around 89 percent of the residents wanted a buyout, a headcount on Friday showed nearly all residents wanted to leave the White Building. However, as with other similar projects, price remains a sticking point.

The minister said that Arakawa was offering around $1,260 per square metre, adding that the price could rise, at most, by another $50. “If the villagers demand too high a price, the company will not have the ability to pay those prices. But I will try to discuss with the company, and you will have to wait till the next meeting,” he said.

The building’s residents, however, were dissatisfied with this offer. Resident Dy Sophanaramany said occupants were looking to sell their apartments for around $2,000 to $2,300 per square metre, asking the minister to reconsider the offer.

“We do not want to leave here crying and not have enough money to buy a new house,” she said.

Fellow resident Kol Sovann said the White Building was centrally located, close to schools and accessible to civic amenities, so it was not unreasonable to expect a higher rate.

Village chief Ngem Sovan said even if the residents didn’t agree to the rate, the government would seek to find an amicable solution rather than resorting to forcible evictions, as it has in similar cases in the past.

Ngeth Chou, senior consultant at Emerging Markets Consulting, said the compensation package may be fair for those living on the first floor and above, though the price should be closer to the $4,000 mark for the ground floor, given its commercial potential.

“I think the price for the land there in the middle of city is around $4,000 to $5,000 [per square metre]. Because the land at the White Building is very high priced now if you compare it to other areas in city,” he said.

MOST VIEWED

  • Prince Norodom Ranariddh passes away at 77

    Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the second son of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk and former First Prime Minister of Cambodia, has passed away in France at the age of 77. “Samdech Krom Preah Norodom Ranariddh has passed away this morning in France just after 9am Paris-time,”

  • General’s gun smuggling ring busted

    The Military Police sent six military officers to court on November 22 to face prosecution for possession of 105 illegal rifles and arms smuggling, while investigators say they are still hunting down additional accomplices. Sao Sokha, deputy commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and commander of

  • Rise in planned flights lifts travel hopes

    Six airlines have applied to resume flights in December, while two others have put in for additional flights and routes, according to State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA) head Mao Havannall on November 29. These account for 43 new weekly domestic and international flights in December, up 16

  • Cambodia, Thailand to discuss border reopening

    Cambodian authorities from provinces along the Cambodia-Thailand border will meet with Thai counterparts to discuss reopening border checkpoints to facilitate travel, transfer of products and cross-border trade between the two countries. Banteay Meanchey provincial deputy governor Ly Sary said on November 22 that the provincial administration

  • More Cambodians studying in US

    The number of Cambodian students studying at US colleges and universities in 2020-21 increased by 14.3 per cent over the previous year despite the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a recent US government report. The 2021 Open Doors report on International Educational Exchange showed that 848 Cambodian students studied

  • Hun Sen: Manet to be candidate for prime minister

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has reaffirmed that his oldest son Hun Manet will be his successor as Prime Minister if he is elected. Speaking during the inauguration of a new sewage treatment facility in Preah Sihanouk province on December 2, Hun Sen said Manet will be