Seventeen decrees within the span of a month have privatized 5,000 hectares — nine plots on Phnom Penh’s Boeng Tamok lake, benefiting several military commanders; hundreds of hectares near the disputed, under-construction new international airport; and the whole of central Kep.
The documents, released on Monday and all signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen, are dated between August 4 and September 2 and continue the recent flurry of land privatization across the country.
Last year, Hun Sen called for the privatization of protected areas for the benefit of poor families already living on the state land, but the land-grant drive has attracted skepticism from residents as many connected officials and tycoons have received land.
Notable recipients in the latest tranche of documents include military police commander Sao Sokha, armed forces commander-in-chief Vong Pisen, oknha Peng Chea, and Say Sorphea, the wife of a military commander who received her fifth and sixth plots on Boeng Tamok.
Some of the grants were to unspecified recipients. Two large reservoirs in Takeo province, near Phnom Penh’s new international airport being built in Kandal, were privatized, totaling 260 hectares. The “whole area” of central Kep was also privatized, without many details.
The state land being privatized included areas marked as forest cover and wildlife sanctuaries.
|August 10||2 ha||Preah Sihanouk||Peng Chea, Vich Hong||Forest|
|August 10||3.7 ha||Battambang||44 families||–|
|August 12||260 ha (two plots)||Takeo||–||Reservoir|
|August 12||15 ha||Phnom Penh||National Police||Boeng Tamok lake|
|August 13||18 ha||Phnom Penh||National Police||Boeng Tamok lake|
|August 14||12 ha||Preah Sihanouk||Seng Keang||Forest|
|August (date obscured by stamp)||7 ha (two plots)||Phnom Penh||Pheun Phy, Sum Phal, 23 families||Boeng Tamok lake|
|August 19||945 ha||Tbong Khmum||64 families||Former land concessions|
|August 19||3,164 ha||Stung Treng||Families without land||Biodiversity area|
|August 19||51 ha||Preah Sihanouk||Fu Hai Investment||Forest|
|August 20||262 ha||Kampong Speu||41 military families||Phnom Oral Wildlife Sanctuary|
|August 23||80 ha||Siem Reap||Tuy Puy, Sun Lin, Phou Sipha, 28 families||Forest|
|August 26||36 ha||Phnom Penh||Sao Sokha, Vong Pisen, Ya Kim Y, Sear Sambath, Pov Meng||Boeng Tamok lake|
|September 1||48 ha (two plots)||Phnom Penh||Say Sorphea||Boeng Tamok lake|
|September 2||4.4 ha||Phnom Penh||Lon Navy||Boeng Tamok lake|
|September 2||28 ha||Phnom Penh||Lon Hak, Chhun Chanthy||Boeng Tamok lake|
The largest grant was over 3,000 hectares of a biodiversity area in Stung Treng, ostensibly earmarked for landless families.
Stung Treng provincial administration spokesperson Man Kong said all of the land will be given to around 300 poor families. They would be allowed to use the biodiversity area to farm and build houses to improve their living conditions, he said.
“In some areas it will affect natural protected areas too, but it is only a little,” Kong said. Sesan district, where the land allocation is located, was the poorest of the province’s five districts, he added.
“The local administrations hope that after distributing the land … it will help them earn incomes through their farming and other business, and hope it will improve infrastructure and public service to reach them.”
In Koh Kong province, which has seen the most sweeping land privatizations so far, residents earlier this year expressed deep skepticism about actually benefiting from the state program, pointing out that usually land just ends up in the hands of the rich.
Two areas that have seen well-connected individuals receive state land saw more grants in the latest documents: Phnom Penh’s Boeng Tamok, considered one of the city’s “last lakes” and vital to prevent flooding; and Preah Sihanouk province’s Prey Nob district, already carved up by elite landholders. A 36-hectare plot on the Phnom Penh lake was granted to military police commander Sokha, armed forces commander-in-chief Pisen, Defense Ministry official Ya Kim Y, military official Sear Sambath and a fifth individual, Pov Meng. Some of the plots overlapped with previous allocations.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said many land grants were to institutions that needed it, and those to individuals were part of deals to help with public development, a process he calls “using palm leaves to package palm sugar.”
The concessions to poor families would not end up in the hands of the rich, he added.
Asked about Sorphea, the wife of Brigade 70 deputy chief Phoeun Phalla, and whether officials able to receive state land were close to Hun Sen, Siphan said it was about public — not personal — interests.
“This is impossible,” he said of connections to Hun Sen being the motivation. “I do not believe that providing the land allocations is for the person. … It could be an exchange for the nation’s interest and needs.”