Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Phnom Penh’s development not fair for all?



Phnom Penh’s development not fair for all?

Phnom Penh’s development not fair for all?

Despite the massive spike in development underway in Phnom Penh, a new report says that the public interest is becoming marginalised in favour of the political and business elite.

The report, from NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT), says that currently “commercial interests are driving the urban development agenda, meaning needs such as adequate low-cost housing, public transportation, and inclusive urban planning are not addressed.”

STT’s Nora Lindstrom told Post Property, “It boils down to the fact that urbanisation currently in Cambodia is commercially driven and there’s very little planning behind what’s going on. That’s having a long-term impact on the city, on the liveability and also on the city’s development for the people in the city, as opposed to commercial interests.”

Lindstrom says she believes the Phnom Penh planning department has “very limited influence, and so there needs to be a decision from higher up that we are going to develop this city in a way that benefits the people and then look at how that is actually going to take place.”

Chris Ponniah of international property agents Henry Butcher agrees: “I think any solution has to come from a government initiative, controlled through the Phnom Penh authorities. My feeling over the last three or four years: they know there is a problem, but there is no solution in their sights at the moment and the reality is that the government lacks their own land, so they can’t build cheap housing. Land in the city is expensive, and it’s not fair to expect the government to buy the land and then build cheap housing.”

Lindstrom says there are a number of issues: “There is clearly money coming from the private sector, and for that they’ve been given something of a free hand, but there is also a lot of collusion between the political and business elites. What we would hope for is that there is stronger government control over how urbanisation happens, but with a focus on building the city for the people – the Cambodian people who live in the city – and making the city for everyone.”

The relocation of communities to make way for development projects in the central areas of the city is having a particularly strong impact, Lindstrom says. “At the moment, what we’re seeing is a lot of slum creation, where people are being moved from the centre of the city, where they’re admittedly poor and could have used upgrading in their community, but they’re being moved from where their livelihoods are, from where their social safety nets are, to the outskirts and they become even poorer as a result,” she said.

“So there’s this band of relocation sites surrounding Phnom Penh now where people are incredibly poor, so this resettlement policy amounts to slum creation, and that’s not necessary or sustainable.”

Ponniah agrees: “The lack of public transport is one of the biggest problems. As long as we are relocating people to the outskirts of the city and they still have to come back into the city for work, transport here is expensive, fuel is not cheap. If people have to move out and they can’t come in to work, then you see labour shortages. So there needs to be a plan in the current years to solve this problem. It shouldn’t be a case of fire-fighting problems.”

Ponniah feels that land-sharing agreements would be a sensible way forward for the city. “Last year, the government approved 600 new projects, 72 per cent higher than the year before, and I feel that all these guys are landowners, and in the business of making money from development; they should be the ones to bear some of these costs.”

He went on: “In Malaysia, if you submit a project to the authorities on more than three hectares of land, you have to give away 30 per cent of the number of units for low-cost housing. That’s how you solve the problem. If you don’t, what are people going to do? They’ll be sleeping on the streets.”

However, Lindstrom is more cautious. “Land-sharing agreements have been discussed before; unfortunately, the big example of land sharing agreements in Phnom Penh is Borei Keila, and it was an absolute farce, so the idea of land sharing is a viable one, but, as with so many other things in Cambodia, it’s about the implementation.”

In 2003, a land-sharing arrangement was proposed for the Borei Keila area, which allowed a construction company called Phanimex to develop part of the area for commercial purposes while providing housing for the residents on the remaining land. Phanimex was supposed to build 10 apartment buildings for the villagers in return for receiving land for commercial development.

However, in 2010, Phanimex reneged on the agreement and only constructed eight buildings, leaving 300 families homeless after the company bulldozed their homes, leading to violent disturbances.

Sunny Soo of international property agents Knight Frank says a balance needs to be struck between economics and morality: “In any pure free-market analysis, people build things that people can buy, not necessarily what people might need. Developers are using their own money to build things, so they’re entitled to build what they want. But it is a moral issue. The government should take care of the poorer citizens, and building a compulsory social housing element into any new, large project would be the sign of moving towards a more advanced economy.”

But Lindstrom is less optimistic. “Development is needed – it’s a question of how it’s conducted, and what we’re saying is that it needs to be conducted in a way that respects peoples’ rights, both legal and human. It needs to develop in a way that takes in to account those rights, and is inclusive. We need to develop the city for the people who live here. A big real estate guy I was talking to at a recent property seminar said to me, ‘I’m a capitalist – I’m here to make money.’ And that was the end of the discussion.”

Officials from the Ministry of Lands, Urban Planning and Construction, and Phnom Penh City Hall were unavailable for comment.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rupert Winchester at [email protected]

MOST VIEWED

  • Cambodia to waive quarantine requirements Nov 15, no PCR test required

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has decided to lift all quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated travellers and visitors – both Cambodians and foreign nationals – effective from November 15 onward. In a special message addressed to officials and relevant authorities on November 14, Hun Sen said this policy will enable

  • PM: No more quarantine for vaccinated travellers

    Cambodia is lifting all quarantine requirements for vaccinated inbound travellers entering Cambodia by air, waterway or land border checkpoints effective from November 15. Travellers will be required to take a rapid antigen test on arrival rather than waiting for the results of the lengthier polymerase chain

  • No payment required for travellers taking rapid Covid tests on arrival

    Ministry of Health officials said there would be no payment required for the rapid Covid-19 tests given to travellers who arrive in Cambodia from November 15 onwards after the quarantine requirement is lifted for fully vaccinated people. Health ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine told The Post on

  • General’s gun smuggling ring busted

    The Military Police sent six military officers to court on November 22 to face prosecution for possession of 105 illegal rifles and arms smuggling, while investigators say they are still hunting down additional accomplices. Sao Sokha, deputy commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and commander of

  • More Cambodians studying in US

    The number of Cambodian students studying at US colleges and universities in 2020-21 increased by 14.3 per cent over the previous year despite the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a recent US government report. The 2021 Open Doors report on International Educational Exchange showed that 848 Cambodian students studied

  • Cambodia, Thailand to discuss border reopening

    Cambodian authorities from provinces along the Cambodia-Thailand border will meet with Thai counterparts to discuss reopening border checkpoints to facilitate travel, transfer of products and cross-border trade between the two countries. Banteay Meanchey provincial deputy governor Ly Sary said on November 22 that the provincial administration