Phnom Penh Sugar responds to a Post story
An article published on June 16 in the Phnom Penh Post titled Sugar Company’s Compensation Deals Leave Families Bitter in Kampong Speu, written by Jack Davies and Bun Sengkong, contained some factually incorrect and misleading information, which affects the company’s reputation. In my capacity as the company’s representative, I wish to clarify the following:
• The 259 families living in Trapaing Chor, Oral district, Kampong Speu province, have entered into a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Phnom Penh Sugar on May 16, 2016, monitored and witnessed by the villagers’ representatives, villagers’ lawyer, company’s representative, representatives from civil society organisations of political parties at the local level. The company’s objective is to include all concerned parties in the process of resolving the disputes transparently, on a voluntary or noncoercive basis, and in a maner acceptable to everyone.
The $500 was not compensation offered to the villagers who are in possession of documents proving their ownership of land. It is for those who claimed that they had land but do not have the documents to prove their claims. That is to say that the $500 was a way of supporting those villagers who do not have rightful claims and to halt their protests over land that they have never legally owned. That is why the 259 families have happily accepted the $500.
In the company’s view, the authors of this article have selectively used information to create a story that misleads the public and to distort facts surrounding the solution process between the company and the villagers.
• For instance, the authors have interviewed and posted a picture of a man identifying himself as Soeung Sokhom. Soeung Sokhom is in no way connected to the village involved in the disputes. He is also not one of those to receive the $500 that is being paid by the company as support to those who have no rightful claim of ownership. In writing this article it is obvious that the two Phnom Penh Post reporters have never understood the objectives and content within the MoU that has been signed by the company and the villagers. As such they have misrepresented the facts.
• The authors of this article have not presented the facts related to villagers being “bitter” about the compensation in an objective manner. Instead they have merely jumped to an arbitrary, baseless and unprofessional conclusion by saying that they did not find any villagers – even one – who was happy about accepting $500 from the company. By jumping to such a conclusion, did they actually approach and interview all 259 families? If no, then the reporters are using selective interviews and information to make baseless accusations.
• Furthermore, in the article, only one villager, identified as Kong Ly, was quoted. The report’s authors have quoted only one person as the basis for stating that the more than 200 others had the same sentiment. This shows a pure lack of professionalism on the part of the authors.
• In addition, in the same article, the Phnom Penh Post has stated as fact that Chan Vicheth is a staff member at Phnom Penh Sugar. The Phnom Penh Post has not checked this fact and has taken this quote at face value. Phnom Penh Sugar would like to categorically state that Chan Vicheth is not a member of staff at Phnom Penh Sugar. By using such a quote without verification calls into question each and every quote that is presented in the article.
• The accusation that the villagers had been forced by the company to Phnom Penh in order to withdraw their complaints from Equitable Cambodia and the National Assembly on May 27 also shows the writers’ lack of understanding of the content of the MoU signed by the company and the villagers. The MoU clearly states that those who accept the money should go to Phnom Penh to withdraw their complaints. This is clearly stated in the MoU agreement.
• The report’s authors have displayed a willful disregard of the facts and have also chosen to use “anonymous” interviews and comments to back up extremely serious accusations about the company.
Based on the above points, as a representative of Phnom Penh Sugar, I wish to exercise my right to reply as the entity affected by the Phnom Penh Post's article Sugar Company’s Compensation Deals Leave Families Bitter in Kampong Speu, based on Article 10 of the Press Law.
Phnom Penh Sugar representative
A mediator without bias or discrimination
First I would like to express my surprise as to how many stories have been written on this subject. The fact that stories have run on Thursday June 16, Friday June 17, Monday June 20 and Tuesday June 21 in the Phnom Penh Post makes me wonder who is behind this attack.
The articles I have referred to are calling into question my integrity and are causing damage to my personal and professional reputation.
In order to clear my name I would like to state that I have had absolutely no personal financial gain from monitoring the dispute at Kampong Speu. Nor do I expect to have, as has been implied.
I would also like to state that I have attended the forum on May 16 with the full knowledge of the steering committee of CHRAC.
With regard to the event on April 10, I attended in a personal capacity. As Cambodians know, a guest at any function is normally invited to sit at a top table. I was there to see the area. I must admit I underestimated the significance of this.
In my position as secretary-general of CHRAC, I have also invited all NGOs concerned to attend meetings to discuss plans for the monitoring of the dispute at Kompong Speu. I have issued invitations on two occasions. There is correspondence to Equitable Cambodia and others to prove this. On both occasions Equitable Cambodia and other organisations declined to attend. This makes me doubt such organisations’ commitment to resolving the Phnom Penh Sugar dispute.
In addition, as stated in a recent opinion piece that appeared in the Phnom Penh Post on June 21, there is no evidence by which to accuse me of any wrongdoing. All of the accusations have come from a story written by Jack Davis and Bun Sengkong. This story has caused considerable harm to my personal and professional reputation. I will be discussing this with lawyers.
Regarding inconsistencies that have been mentioned in the opinion piece that was published on June 21, I can assure everyone that CHRAC has been involved with monitoring and intervention in the situation in Kompong Speu before this episode. There are official records to prove this.
I am an impartial observer. I do not take sides in any dispute – as has been implied in articles published in the Phnom Penh Post. It is my intention to see any activity or event that will be organised by any concerned actors with the main aim to seek for the resolution of this land dispute.
The views expressed in the Post’s article were those of numerous community members, representatives and NGO workers, and not those of the paper or its reporters. The Post stands by its objectivity in these matters, as it always has when presenting its sources’ accounts of events and situations of all stripes. In regard to the use of anonymous sources, the Post offers anonymity on a case-by-case basis to those with legitimate reason to fear repercussions for speaking out on a particular subject. And while only one villager was quoted by name, Post reporters conducted in-depth interviews with nearly a dozen families, all of whom offered similar views. A clarification on page 2 of today’s issue addresses the fact that only families without land titles were involved in the $500 compensation scheme.
I would also like to categorically state that I have never accepted, endorsed or approved $500 for compensation for land in settlement of this dispute. I have only stated what I saw – which was that “the villagers arrived bringing smiles and they were coming happy”. I have never given “my stamp of approval” to any deal concerned with this dispute as was reported in the Phnom Penh Post.
Finally I have always been transparent about the fact that Ly Yong Phat’s company, Phnom Penh Sugar, has asked me and other NGOs to help monitor this dispute. The request came from the company representatives and not Ly Yong Phat himself.
As a Cambodian who wants to see such disputes resolved, I have spent my time monitoring this situation – and as appropriate, I will continue to do so without bias or discrimination. My conscience is clear.
With this opportunity, I would like to ask you to publish my clarification above in your newspaper.
Send letters to: [email protected]. The Post reserves the right to edit letters to a shorter length. The views expressed above are solely the author’s and do not reflect any positions taken by the Phnom Penh Post.