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White Building plans laid out by ministry

Traffic passes Phnom Penh’s iconic White Building earlier this year.
Traffic passes Phnom Penh’s iconic White Building earlier this year. Hong Menea

White Building plans laid out by ministry

Minister of Land Management Chea Sophara told representatives of residents of Phnom Penh’s White Building yesterday that the iconic structure is to be torn down and replaced with a 21-storey multipurpose tower.

A statement from the ministry yesterday officially named Arakawa Co Ltd as the commercial partner and was released following a meeting between Sophara, the developer and the representatives earlier in the day.

The statement says the top 12 floors of the new building will be set aside for Arakawa to sell privately. Three of the first nine floors will be reserved for car parking, and five for accommodation for existing White Building residents – with the floor space of each resident increased by 10 percent. One floor will be set aside for commercial units.

The projected cost of the development has more than doubled since the ministry’s last announcement of the planned project at the end of August – from $30 million to $70 million-$80 million.

Soeung Sara, acting director of housing rights NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, confirmed the content of yesterday’s meeting, calling it the first time a land management minister had met with a community about a land dispute.

However, Sara urged both the government and the company to conduct a housing survey to evaluate the true number of families needing re-housing or compensation, cautioning that previous communities uprooted by development projects have seen members left behind.

“Take Borei Keila; some people had to leave there without any compensation,” Sara said, referring to a deal in which evictees were promised units in new developments, some of which never materialised.

Borei Keila evictee Sar Sorn, 57, yesterday advised White Building residents to think carefully about whether they accept Sophara’s proposal, or risk facing a fate similar to hers.

“This time they [the government] may keep its promise because they need villagers’ votes. The election is coming,” Sorn said. “For us, we are suffering.”

A 36-year-old White Building resident, who asked not to be named, said they would rather negotiate compensation than wait to be re-housed in the White Building’s replacement, which is forecasted to take up to four years to be completed.

“We need acceptable compensation, we asked for at least $50,000 for each family,” they said. “They just asked us to leave our home temporarily with a promise that we can return, but . . . it’s difficult for me to talk about that.”

Contacted yesterday afternoon, Arakawa managing director Ieng Sotheara said he was unaware his firm had been appointed to execute the project. “I was at the meeting. Maybe he announced it after that, but the meeting was just to gain the trust of the people,” said Sotheara.

Neither the ministry nor the company have set a firm date for the construction, with Sotheara saying that “the company is waiting for a real survey of how many families are living there, how many square metres there really are, who is an owner, who is a renter”.

Minister Sophara and residents are due to resume discussions on November 8. Neither Sophara nor any of the ministry’s three spokespeople were reachable for comment.

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