The filling of Phnom Penh’s Boeng Tamok lake is continuing briskly as the government allocated more landfill plots to people close to government and military leaders.
Boeng Tamok, considered one of Phnom Penh’s “last lakes,” has been carved up for private individuals as well as state institutions that have at least in some cases sold the plots to pay for renovations.
In sub-decrees from November that were made public this week, four more sets of plots totaling to 219 hectares were distributed. These include five locations totaling 122 hectares given to Som Sokdaramonuerika, Som Somalika and Som Sokdararikio; 70 hectares to Say Sorphea; 6 hectares to Chim Pisey; and 19 hectares to Chen Srunheng.
All the decrees were signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen. The connections for Pisey and Srunheng could not immediately be found on Thursday.
However, the siblings Sokdaramonuerika, Somalika and Sokdararikio are directors of Emario Shonan Marine and Emario Property and Investment. The Emario Group lists several projects on its website, including resorts in Sihanoukville and Mondulkiri and an “Emario Lake Town.” A man who answered the phone for the company asked to be sent written questions, but did not respond to them.
News reports name the three in divorce proceedings for their parents, Chou Darareth and Som Sokrady.
Further reports identify Darareth as a member of Hun Sen’s secretariat who donated $1,000 for Covid-19 vaccination efforts. Darareth did not answer calls to a phone number for her.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan would not elaborate on the secretariat, and said he was not familiar with Darareth.
Siphan said many of the plots had been handed to ministries and other institutions in order to exchange them into money and fund their own constructions.
He said some of the lake would be reserved as a reservoir according to a master plan, but referred details to City Hall and the Land Ministry. About 1,400 of the lake’s 3,200 hectares have so far been given to individuals and institutions, according to data from non-governmental organizations.
Meanwhile, Sorphea’s 70 hectares adds to at least four previous state land grants she has received, including multiple plots on Boeng Tamok. She is the wife of Brigade 70 general Phoeun Phalla, and is a director for Active Properties, a real estate company that was previously chaired by Pich Chanmony, the wife of Hun Sen’s eldest son and chosen successor Hun Manet, according to Open Corporates data.
Her husband Phalla was also subject to an investigation following his alleged involvement in a violent land dispute that led to the arrests of eight people.
Royal Cambodian Armed Forces army spokesman Mao Phalla said there was no update to Phalla’s investigation.
Transparency International Cambodia director Pech Pisey said the government should provide a clear plan to show whether developments are in the public interest.
“I think distributing state land to private individuals is a concern for the public because they don’t understand how and why the land is being distributed … because people are also the owners of state land,” Pisey said. “[It makes us] think there is some other thing behind it that we don’t know.”
Filling in all public spaces and lakes for development would impact residents’ living conditions, he said.
“I think the most important thing is that we have to be transparent.”