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Poor ‘lack voice’ amid urban growth

A man eats lunch opposite his residence in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kork district earlier this year as cranes loom over large development sites close by.
A man eats lunch opposite his residence in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kork district earlier this year as cranes loom over large development sites close by. Pha Lina

Poor ‘lack voice’ amid urban growth

Phnom Penh’s lack of a clear master plan for development has hurt its communities and allowed private developers to collude with authorities to push out poorer residents, speakers at a land rights conference said yesterday.

Ee Sarom, executive director of STT – which hosted the conference in conjunction with the Czech NGO People in Need – said that as Phnom Penh experiences dramatic growth, local communities have been shut out of commenting on development that may affect them.

“So far, there is no city master plan with the participation or acceptance from the people,” he said. In the meantime, he added, forced evictions are rampant, affecting people in communities across the city.

“Some community members were physically abused and jailed like in Boeung Kak and Borei Keila,” Sarom added. “It also led to inappropriate compensation for the people and it just made them become even poorer.”

Piotr Sasin, country director for People in Need, echoed these comments, saying that Phnom Penh was becoming a city for the privileged, with the most attractive parts of the city sold off to private developers.

Ses Sok Kosal, deputy director of legal affairs and human rights at City Hall, who participated in the conference, admitted that there is no clear master plan.

The city has created a development plan for the northern part of Phnom Penh, which has been submitted to the Council of Ministers but not yet signed.

“If there is no adoption [of a master plan] yet, we cannot say that it is incorrect when people develop in this or that location,” he said.

Sarun Rithea, a spokesman with the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, said that his ministry is in talks with City Hall over a master zoning plan for Phnom Penh, which would last through 2035.

He said that this plan may be finalised before the end of the year, but did not say whether it would allow local residents to comment on future development.

Keurt Sareth, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Land Management, said that the current building approvals process doesn’t explicitly call for public comments.

He added that while he personally believes in public comments for large construction projects, holding them for every development of any size would be counterproductive.

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