Up until this week, people living in the establishment continue to claim that the official news regarding the plan to develop the iconic White Building residence remains an enigma.
The building rests in one of the most prime locations in Phnom Penh, and whose development plan rumours are frequently dispersed. As the ministry claims to be doing everything in its power to accelerate the comprehensive researching process, the minister released in dribs and drabs the identity of the investment company to be a Japanese company by the name of Arakawa.
Seng Loth, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning, and Construction (MLMUPC) said yesterday that the plan is “still in the stage of comprehensive study in order to develop the old and worn-out building. What we worry about is risking the livelihood of the building’s residents, that’s why a thorough research and study is needed to find solutions to possible problems together.”
The parties involved in this project are “from Japan – they are an investment company and had asked our ministry to lead the comprehensive research in order to figure out the development capacity of the location,” according to Loth.
Nonetheless, he refused to shed any light on the duration of the research, only claiming that “we are trying to accelerate the process.”
Chea Sophara, senior minister and the minister of the MLMUPC, said yesterday via his official Facebook page: “Today, I and my associates, including a representative from Phnom Penh City Hall met with the Japanese company Arakawa to discuss matters regarding the development project of the White Building in order to propose for advice from the Cambodian government.”
A group of elderly women idling and knitting on a hammock at a staircase within the White Building remained nonchalant when speaking to Post Property: “Before Pchum Ben, I had heard rumors about an NGO that wanted to develop the building.”
One continued, “But we were not informed by any government agent, NGO or company about any of their activities.”
“If I have to exchange [this house for money], it would have to be at least $70,000 because the other houses are way too expensive, and it is convenient living here.”
Another resident of about 60 years old, living in a two-bedroom complex on the building’s first floor had publicly requested for the authorities and the NGOs, including the investors, to hold a public forum to directly discuss the matters over together with the residents. In his opinion, “authorities and parties involved should come and speak directly with us, the very people who have lived in this place for about 30 years. They shouldn’t obscure any information from us.”
He continued, “We, the residents of the building, are afraid they might alter the number of actual residents living here. Therefore, the number keeps increasing and in the end, we become the victims.”
Sea Phearum, director of the Housing Rights Task Force (HRTF), who has worked closely for many years with the people in the White Building community said, “Indeed, the living standard of the residents in the White Building is immensely lower than the poverty living standard set by the United Nations.”
Phearum added, “Right now the officials from the HRTF Force aren’t allowed to go in and out of the building as freely as before.” There were disturbances from the basic authorities set up by the ministry, prohibiting NGOs from entering the building.
To date, the HRTF have been given estimates by the residents that there are approximately 600 families living in the White Building.