Land Management Minister Chea Sophara called for the end of compensation negotiations with White Building occupants on Friday, drawing the line at $1,400 per square metre – far lower than the $1,800 sought by residents.
The ministry and residents had attempted to negotiate an acceptable compensation package that would see the residents leave the building and Japanese firm Arakawa Co raze the iconic structure and replace it with a 21-storey mixed-use development.
The top 12 floors will be for Arakawa to sell privately, three would be for parking and one for commercial purposes, and five were to be set aside for current residents, though most have indicated they would rather sell their apartments and leave than be temporarily relocated.
At a meeting with residents and community representatives, Minister Sophara said the $1,400-per-square-metre offer was the maximum the Japanese firm could offer and suggested expediting the process because Arakawa had already taken a loan for the project and would have to pay interest on that soon.
During the course of internal meetings, residents, who at first wanted $2,000 to $2,300 per square metre, decided to lower their offer to around $1,800 as of April.
“I am at the last door. I have no alternative solutions and this is what I have,” Sophara said.
The minister warned residents against requesting higher prices, threatening to close the meeting and claiming that refusal to accept the offer by even a handful of families could derail the project.
He also claimed, without elaborating, that unnamed actors may seek to bribe families to reject the offer.
“I think most of the people are happy with how we are doing this, so we will start implementing it June 6 to July 6,” he said, adding that $100 would be given for relocation expenses.
Executives at Arakawa Co could not be reached yesterday. However, residents seem to have heeded Sophara’s call, with 191 of the 493 families in the building signing contracts with the ministry to accept the $1,400 offer as of yesterday, according to Hue Chenda, deputy director of the ministry’s housing department.
“But there are still people who disagree with the price, and they are also people who have complained about wrong measurements [of their apartments],” he said, adding that the contract signing process would go on for 10 days.
Resident Moul Sarin, 45, said he would not get enough money for his 28-square-metre apartment to buy a plot of land in Phnom Penh, but had accepted the deal, fearing there would be no other viable option.
“I just signed it because they told us that this is what they could offer. I am not happy with it because it will affect our living,” he said.
However, another resident, San Sopheap, said she was going to wait and watch what others do.
“There is still time for me so I will wait and see. If those who live downstairs do not accept it, I won’t either,” said the 54-year-old housewife.
Soeung Saran, advocacy programme manager at housing rights NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, said many residents feared the forced evictions that accompanied other housing development projects across the city and were going to accept the offer to sidestep any conflicts.
“People are concerned it is relatively low and cannot be used to buy another plot in Phnom Penh,” he said. “They are also concerned about a forced eviction.”
Additional reporting by Ananth Baliga