Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Propaganda mill at full tilt

Propaganda mill at full tilt

Propaganda mill at full tilt


A woman carries part of a door at a relocation site in Trapeang Anch Chanh village for evictees from areas that have been affected by Cambodia’s railway rehabilitation project. Photograph: Pha Lina/Phnom Penh Post

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has posted a short video on its website about the resettlement impacts of the Cambodian railway rehabilitation project it is financing.

Rattling off numerous improvements to people’s living conditions, the three-minute video portrays the resettlement process as a resounding success, benefiting poor Cambodian families who are now, or will be, better off than they were before the railway project came along.

Although the soothing voice of the narrator fleetingly mentions that there have been a few criticisms and grievances, the Asian Development Bank’s country director for Cambodia quickly assures the audience that the ADB is working with the Cambodian government to ensure all the remaining grievances are addressed.

This is a piece of propaganda that would make Goebbels blush.

Last month, as the ADB was busy working on this elaborate piece of public relations, the human-rights group Licadho was making itself infinitely more useful by providing families affected by the railway project with emergency humanitarian aid.

Many of the families now living at the remote Phnom Penh resettlement site are struggling under the weight of debilitating debt burdens and are simply no longer able to make ends meet.

The bungled resettlement process has driven many of these families below Cambodia’s poverty line because of lost employment or drastically reduced income.

Sovanna, a 46-year-old mother featured in Sahmakum Teang Tnaut’s new report, Losing the Plot, has seen her family’s monthly income drop from $225 prior to resettlement to just $32 at the Phnom Penh relocation site in Trapeang Anch Chanh.

Like most of the affected families, Sovanna (not her real name) borrowed money from an informal money lender to pay for the construction of her new house because the $750 she received in compensation was not enough. She is now overdue on the repayments of $72 a month and may soon lose her plot of land to the creditor.

Five families in Trapeang Anch Chanh have reported they have already lost their plots of land and have been left homeless as a result of the “development” project.

These families are not alone in facing the debilitating effects of poorly executed resettlement in the name of development.

In February, the international non-government organisation Bridges Across Borders released a report titled Derailed, which describes in detail the harm suffered by families who have been resettled because of the Cambodian railways project.

This report documents repeated failures to comply with Asian Development Bank’s own safeguard policies, resulting in a high risk of prolonged impoverishment for affected people across the country.

Although no doubt some families have enjoyed benefits from resettlement, there is no question that many others have been harmed.

The Asian Development Bank is well aware of this. It has been copied on complaints from hundreds of affected people, and its staff have attended numerous meetings during which community representatives have described in detail the extremely difficult conditions people are facing at resettlement sites.

Relocated families have sent letters to the ADB asking for loans so they can feed their families.

A long complaint, setting out a litany of policy violations and harm suffered as a result of the railway project, has been submitted to the ADB’s internal accountability mechanism by 150 affected families.

Despite this mounting evidence, rather than acknowledging the re-settlement disaster and accepting some degree of responsibility for the damage done to people’s lives, the ADB’s propaganda machine has kicked in at high voltage.

This Potemkin village video is an appalling use of public funds to whitewash human-rights violations that have been inflicted on some of Cambodia’s poorest families by a grossly mismanaged development project financed by an institution with a professed mandate to fight poverty in Asia.

Natalie Bugalski is an associate of Inclusive Development International and a co-author of the Derailed report.


  • Girl from Stung Meanchey dump now college grad living in Australia

    After finishing her foundational studies at Trinity College and earning a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Melbourne in 2022, Ron Sophy, a girl who once lived at the Stung Meanchey garbage dump and scavenged for things to sell, is now working at a private

  • Ministry orders all schools, public and private, to close for SEA Games

    From April 20 to May 18, all public and private educational institutions will be closed to maintain order and support Cambodia's hosting of the 32nd SEA Games and 12th ASEAN Para Games, said a directive from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport. Cambodia will host the

  • Wat Phnom hornbills attract tourists, locals

    Thanks to the arrival of a friendly flock of great hornbills, Hour Rithy, a former aviculturist – or raiser of birds – in Kratie province turned Phnom Penh tuk tuk driver, has seen a partial return to his former profession. He has become something of a guide

  • Almost 9K tourists see equinox sunrise at Angkor Wat

    Nearly 9,000 visitors – including 2,226 international tourists – gathered at Angkor Wat on March 21 to view the spring equinox sunrise, according to a senior official of the Siem Reap provinical tourism department. Ngov Seng Kak, director of the department, said a total of 8,726 people visited Angkor Wat to

  • Angkor Beer strengthens national pride with golden new look and fresher taste

    Angkor Beer – the "Gold of Angkor" – has a new look, one that is more stylish and carries a premium appeal, as well as a fresher taste and smoother flavour, making it the perfect choice for any gathering. Angkor Beer recently launched its new design, one

  • PM urges end to ‘baseless’ international Ream base accusations

    Prime Minister Hun Sen urges an end to “baseless” foreign accusations surrounding the development of the Kingdom’s Ream Naval Base, as the US has consistently suggested that the base is being expanded to accommodate a Chinese military presence. Hun Sen renewed his calls while