Hun Sen Says He Is Tired of ‘Jealous’ Criticisms Over Lake-Filling

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Prime Minister Hun Sen applauds during an event on January 22, 2021, in a photograph posted to his Facebook page.
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Phnom Penh is expanding, and it is no different from many countries in using landfill to meet the demands of development, Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Friday as he rejected criticism over transferring public lake areas to developers.

The capital’s Boeng Tamok, considered one of Phnom Penh’s “last lakes,” has been increasingly carved up to be filled in recent years, including parcels granted to the land management minister’s daughter Chea Sophamaden, the wife of ruling party senator Ly Yong Phat, and Suy Sophan, a developer tied to notorious violent evictions in the capital.

At an inauguration for a new Transport Ministry building on Friday morning, Hun Sen said members of the public and civil society groups have been critical of his sub-decrees allocating Boeng Tamok to private companies and state institutions for buildings and other infrastructure.

But it was for development to serve the public interest, Hun Sen said.

“Our city is not just developing the old parts of the city — it has expanded from more than 300 sq km to more than 700 sq km. That’s why I’m tired of the repeated claims of some people that we cut off the lake, we cut off this and that,” he said.

Beneficiaries of sub-decrees signed by Hun Sen to privatize state land have also included his daughters, for land in Preah Sihanouk province.

“Let me tell you in advance that I will continue to cut because it is all the people’s fields … and the sub-decrees put me in charge of it, about what should be done and what should not be done,” Hun Sen said. “Other countries pump [sand into] the sea and expand into the sea to create land for development, and why is it ‘Cambodia is doing this wrong, doing that wrong’?”

“Jealous!” Hun Sen said of his critics. “[Other countries] wipe out their lakes to develop their cities, but [here they] reproach and reproach again. No! Even if you condemn it, we will still do it.”

Soeung Saran, executive director for land rights NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, said civil society was not opposed to the government’s development plans.

But he said that in order to avoid criticism, the government needs to present specific reports and conduct a thorough study on filling up the lake. He also asked the government to provide clear information to the public and civil society and give them the opportunity to provide feedback.

“The government can assess various social, economic and environmental impacts to ensure sustainable development, and the reports should be released to the public so that the people, the general public, can be informed and consulted,” Saran said.

Environmental impact assessments, required of all investment projects and state developments, have become hidden from public view. NGO Forum, which unlike other groups had previously been given access to the documents, said the Environment Ministry stopped consulting it about the assessments last year.

(Translated and edited from the original article on VOD Khmer)

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