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Tycoon lands surprise

Tycoon lands surprise

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Mong Reththy in Preah Sihanouk province on Sunday.

One of the country’s best known tycoons yesterday delivered an impromptu speech to senators and parliamentarians that was as surprising in its content as it was in context.

Speaking at the end of a four-hour workshop on climate change adaptation at the National Assembly building, Mong Reththy spoke out at investors who evict people from areas covered by economic land concessions.

“Some investors claim that they need to evict people to develop their concessions, but I disagree with this tactic,” he said. “These people have been living on their land for generations. Where will they go when they’re kicked out?”  

The businessman, senator and advisor to Prime Minister Hun Sen also urged investors to employ local residents on their concessions rather than hiring outsiders.

Economic land concessions, especially those granted to people and companies closely tied to the ruling party, have drawn intense criticism from opposition MPs, environmentalists and rights groups.

Mong Reththy’s portfolio spans transport, agro-industry and construction. He was dubbed “Hun Sen’s Money Man” in a cable from the US embassy in Phnom Penh published online by WikiLeaks earlier this month. The cable, written in 2007, claimed that his concession in Stung Treng province exceeded the legal size limit by 10 times.

After the cable was published, Mong Reththy told The Post that all of his business activities were legitimate. He said that his donations to infrastructure and education were intended “to help the people and the nation”, not to enable him to skirt the law.

Speaking at yesterday’s workshop he also called on the government to create a panel to verify that companies granted ELCs abided by their conditions. “We need to ensure that [the companies] are not using violence against women and children, that they are giving jobs to local people and complying with relevant labour laws,” he said.

The panel would function better if it was “supported by the private sector”, he said.        

President of rights group Licadho, Pung Chhiv Kek, yesterday urged Mong Reththy to push for the reforms he outlined.

“Coming from him the statement has, if sincere, the potential for setting new standards in the way land concessions are attributed to big companies, and control the way the companies implement their contracts and comply with national labour law,” she wrote in an e-mail.

“If independent, the committee would not do miracles to solve the vast question of land resources and conflicts in Cambodia, but it certainly would be a way for better dialogue and fewer tensions in society.”   

An official from the Ministry of Agriculture, who asked not to be named, said:  “I do not agree with Mong Reththy’s proposal to form the committee. The government already has a national inspection process and each relevant ministry has an inspection department.”

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