Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Road to nowhere for Route One waysiders

Road to nowhere for Route One waysiders

Road to nowhere for Route One waysiders

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Sin Chhorn sits outside his house, for which government agents offered him $89 or nothing

P

EOPLE whose homes and shops will be affected by the Asian Development Bank-funded

Route One highway improvement project say they are being cheated by the Government's

compensation and relocation plan.

Locals spoken to by the Post said they were receiving payments as low as $89 for

their houses and land.

A draft report by the Working Group on Development Banks of the NGO Forum on Cambodia

obtained by the Post said: "Although most respondents thought the amounts of

compensation were not enough, they understood that if they refused, they would [get]

nothing."

Sixty-six percent of respondents reported that they agreed to receive limited compensation

- referred to as a "contribution" to the cost of relocation - stating that

that is the Government's policy and they had no choice.

The report said only seven percent of those surveyed felt the compensation was fair

and nearly all of those people owned parcels of land on which they could rebuild

immediately.

The $50.7 million Cambodian component of the Route One widening project - to improve

the link between Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City - was begun in January this year

and will affect nearly 1,200 homes and shops. The ADB's Special Fund Resources lent

the Government $40 million for this project

In December 1999, the ADB Project Management Unit at the Ministry of Public Works

and Transport invited NGOs to bid for the contract to monitor the implementation

of the Govern-ment's Resettlement Action Plan.

The NGOs were given five working days to submit the bids. After months of inquiry,

the NGO Forum just learned on June 5 that an NGO had indeed been selected.

NICFEC, an NGO usually involved with election monitoring, was given the task of monitoring

the Resettlement Implementation Plan.

The Director of NICFEC, Hang Puthea, said that though NICFEC conducted two surveys

of people affected by the project between March 10 and May 10, they did not receive

a copy of the Government's Resettlement Action Plan till June 5 - the same day the

NGO Forum discovered which NGO was responsible for the project's monitoring.

Puthea said conducting the surveys without the plan was difficult and repeated requests

to the Government for the plan were ignored till recently.

NICFEC's latest report states that though "citizens are very happy to rebuild

this National Road No 1", and the "Government has a policy to supply compensation

to people for moving and erecting new houses", there are a few problems with

the project's implementation.

These problems, as briefly outlined in the three-page report, include families not

receiving enough compensation to relocate, affected people not understanding the

Government's policy, and anger caused by what appears to be an arbitrary compensation

formula.

The report concludes by saying: "NICFEC finds that [the Interministerial Relocation

Committee] must continue its activities, but should solve the remaining problems."

According to the ADB's Involuntary Resettlement Policy, the problems as stated in

the NICFEC report should not be tolerated for ADB-funded projects.

ADB policy states that Bank-funded projects should "minimize resettlement where

population displacement is unavoidable, and ensure that displaced people receive

assistance, preferably under the project, so that they would be at least as well-off

as they would have been in absence of the project."

The summary of the Government's resettlement plan in a November 1998 ADB report on

the road improvement project states: "Compensation for all structures will be

at replacement cost and must be sufficient to completely rebuild the structure at

the time of compensation. No deduction is allowable for salvageable materials."

The summary goes on to say: "[Project affected people] will receive a site of

equivalent or greater value than their former site. No contribution will be required

from the [people] if the value of the relocation site is greater than their former

location.

"People who lose too much land to rebuild on will be given the option to accept

a plot of land at a resettlement site. And "[people] who reconstruct on the

same site will receive cash compensation for land lost according to the compensation

schedules presented in the detailed Resettlement Action Plan."

Great changes seem to have been made from the original plan as the ongoing implementation

bears little resemblance to that plan.

However, the ADB said they were not able to provide a copy of the Government's most

recent resettlement plan - the one on which the ongoing compensation and resettlement

program is based.

Uth Chorn, the Chairman of the road project's Interministerial Resettlement Committee,

said he was too busy to speak to the Post and could not make a copy of the plan available.

All the affected families interviewed by the Post near Neak Leung were adamant that

they will be made worse off as a result of this project. They are not being compensated

for lost land. Deductions are being made for salvageable materials, and compensation

offered does not match replacement costs.

Sin Chhorn, who lives in a hut on the outskirts of Neak Leung, said the project has

been a disaster for his family.

"What can I do with $89?" asks Chhorn. "I was afraid if I didn't agree

[with the Government's compensation offer], they would just push my house down."

Chhorn, a 52-year-old laborer with a wife and three children, said he bought his

land for three damleung of gold [now worth about $1,140] in the early 1980s.

He was away when officials came to negotiate compensation - or "contribution"

as the Government prefers to call it - for his property.

Chhorn's wife agreed to the Government's price of $89 for their house and land. Although

she made a half-hearted attempt to get a better price, she was intimidated by officials

who said it was the best she could hope to get.

"$89...$89...Is it fair? I want to stay here because I have no land," said

Chhorn. "If [the Government] pulls down my house, okay. But they will have to

pull it down with my family inside because we have nowhere to go.

"My house has almost collapsed because it is so decayed. I don't need much money,

just enough to buy land and build a small house like this - about $1,000."

Chhorn said the Government will not compensate him for most of his land as they claim

it is state property. He has already sold a small back parcel of the land he has

left to a neighbor, but says he still needs several hundred more dollars to relocate.

Another Neak Leung resident, 64-year-old Kong Hong, said: "I don't know what

is going on. It is the Government's plan, so we respect the Government."

Hong's son, Samnang, said the family rejected the Government's first offer of $800.

The next time officials came around they had sweetened the deal to $1,040. The family

had a meeting and decided they were still far from satisfied and would hold out for

a better offer.

But Samnang's father decided the deal was the best they were likely to be offered

and gave his thumbprint to the document agreeing to relocate their property.

But when Samnang's mother heard neighbors had successfully held out for more money

she quarreled with her husband, then left home.

Samnang said: "This is not justice. We've learned the Government cheated us.

They looked at us as just poor, simple people. Other people in smaller houses have

got better prices. Maybe the officials that inspected their houses were not so strict,

maybe they made a secret deal.

"We've a lot of family members in the house and only one agreed. Can we renegotiate?"

he asked.

Samnang said the Government officials act more like businessmen. "They cheat

who they can, especially pure Khmer. With the Chinese they have to negotiate more

carefully," he said.

The confusion over the project expressed by Samnang and his family is typical. According

to the NGO Forum's draft report, 55 per cent of the respondents said they did not

understand the Government's compensation policy, nor did they know exactly how many

meters from the center of the road the Government is claiming.

None of the people surveyed were able to explain the Government's compensation formula.

Most respondents said that the authorities measured their house in square meters.

"Then without giving further explanation, requested the house owners to fingerprint

a document certifying they agreed to move their house and receive the Government's

contribution."

The report said it was clear from interviews with Provincial Resettlement Sub-Committees

in Svay Rieng and Prey Veng that the Sub-Committees understand the compensation is

just a "contribution" to the cost of relocation and not intended to cover

all costs.

Villagers near Neak Leung provided the Post a photocopy of the Government's official

"contribution" formula.

The owner of a simple thatch-roofed house will receive $25.75 per square meter. The

owner of a house with wood walls and tiled-roof is to get $50 per square meter. A

one-story concrete building will be compensated at $100 per square meter, and a two-story

building at $185. Further compensation is offered for wells, graves, and stupas.

But in reality the "contribution" is much less. Take, for example, the

house owned by Neak Leung's Cheng Peng. His house is 58.5 square meters. At $50 per

square meter he should be compensated $2,925. But by the time the Government surveyors

deducted money for the quality of the house and materials they felt Peng would be

able to salvage, his "contribution" payment came to $895.05.

All the villagers who spoke to the Post told similar stories.

One family told the Post they bought their land and built a house in 1995 for $15,000.

They just settled with the Government for $1,147. "I agreed," said the

owner of the house who did not want to be named, "because I was afraid if I

didn't the Government would just push down my house."

His wife said she feels the family has been cheated. "It is not fair, but what

can we do? Most people have agreed with the Government already, but no one thinks

they have been treated fairly. For the really poor, they have nowhere to go."

She said the people who accepted Government officials' first "contribution"

offer received very low prices for their houses. It wasn't till someone's relative

from Phnom Penh came back to Neak Leung with official documentation stating how much

the Government should be paying that local residents realized they were legally entitled

to more money.

Anthony Jude, an ADB Project Implementation Officer, said the ADB has only recently

been made aware that there are problems and misunderstandings regarding the Government's

compensation and relocation program.

As the Post went to press, Jude was about to have a meeting with representatives

from the NGO Forum and NICFEC to investigate the cause of the problems and confusion.

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