Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - White Building dwellers told to vote CPP for speedy eviction deal

White Building dwellers told to vote CPP for speedy eviction deal

Local officials speak to White Building occupants at a meeting yesterday in Phnom Penh.
Local officials speak to White Building occupants at a meeting yesterday in Phnom Penh. Heng Chivoan

White Building dwellers told to vote CPP for speedy eviction deal

A day before Land Management Minister Chea Sophara was scheduled to meet residents of Phnom Penh’s iconic White Building, the locale’s village chiefs promised to find a quick solution to the residents’ impending eviction – if the ruling Cambodian People’s Party fared well in the upcoming commune elections, that is.

At a meeting with residents of the building yesterday, chiefs Hun Sarath and Ngem Sovan, who represent the building’s two villages, said the process of finding a solution for residents of the White Building – which is slated for demolition – was complicated, but noted that re-election of CPP representatives in the June ballot would help quicken that process.

In an interview, Sovan confirmed asking the villagers to support the ruling party, and maintained that there was nothing unusual about it.

“Related to telling [the villagers] to vote for the CPP in order to find a solution for the building, I think it is not wrong and it is normal thing,” Sovan said, refusing to comment further.

However, advocates yesterday begged to differ, saying the remarks inappropriately politicised what should be a non-partisan bureaucratic process.

The White Building is slated for a three-year redevelopment by Japanese firm Arakawa Co Ltd costing an estimated $70 million, with current residents given two options: live elsewhere during the redevelopment and return to new apartments, or sell out and leave their homes.

Initial plans for the structure include 21 storeys, five of which will be used to house existing White Building residents. Three will be used for parking, one for commercial purposes and the rest will be set aside for Arakawa to sell privately.

Over the last few months, ministry officials have swarmed the building on multiple occasions, measuring and inspecting the structure, with Sophara expected to ask residents to make a final pick as to which of the two solutions they prefer today.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Tonle Bassac commune chief Khat Narith speaks to the White Building occupants yesterday in Phnom Penh. Heng Chivoan

San Chey, head of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability Cambodia, said it was clearly evident that the power remained with the ministry – regardless of what the village chiefs may have promised – and that the duo should refrain from playing a “political game”.

Finding a solution based on a political calculation “should not be more [important] than the responsibility they have to the citizens”, he said.

“It should be without political obligations and without conditions on the elections.”

Chey was also surprised the village chiefs were proactively involving themselves in the process, given that normally village chiefs were prone to throw their hands up and point to the Land Ministry when citizens asked for intervention in contentious land disputes.

Soeung Saran, advocacy program manager for housing rights NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, said the chief’s request almost had the ring of a threat, and that the long-standing issue needed to be resolved in a bipartisan manner.

Meanwhile, Morn Phalla, in charge of Phnom Penh communes for the CNRP, said any party elected to the commune and village would be able to work with the ministry to expedite the redevelopment of the White Building.

“It is the obligation of [local] authorities who win to complete their obligation to the people and find solutions to any problem of the people,” he said.

Yesterday’s announcement appeared to resonate with some residents. Yan Phearum and Som Sitha both said that after hearing the chiefs’ remarks, they wondered if it would potentially be easier to find a solution with a CPP representative.

Sitha said that he worried that a change in village or commune chief could change the processes involved in getting compensation.

But 62-year-old Kol Saran said that the officials’ remarks would have no bearing on how she voted in June, adding that she only wanted the government to ensure fair compensation for her plot.

“To vote or not vote for the CPP, the village chiefs should not have said that,” she said, wagging her finger. “We have made our decision and want a quick solution regardless.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Prince Norodom Ranariddh passes away at 77

    Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the second son of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk and former First Prime Minister of Cambodia, has passed away in France at the age of 77. “Samdech Krom Preah Norodom Ranariddh has passed away this morning in France just after 9am Paris-time,”

  • 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

  • Banteay Meanchey gunfight sees 15 Thais arrested, three officers injured

    The Banteay Meanchey Military Police have arrested 15 Thai suspects and their accomplices after a gun battle between two Thai groups caused injuries to three police officers in the early hours of November 21, local authorities said. National Military Police spokesman Eng Hy said that according to

  • Locally-trained commercial pilots to lift Cambodia’s aviation standard

    The Kingdom is boosting its civil aviation sector with the establishment of a flight school with a local airline to meet growth demands once air travel recovers At 22, First Officer Reachta Lim is the youngest commercial pilot in Cambodia. He flies with the national flag