Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Dey Krahom Dispute on Blogs

I feel I have to make one more statement in clarification what I have said about this so far. It is apparent that many people just don’t read the post and comments thoroughly enough.

First let me point out that this blog, as most other blogs, is not a journalistic work, nor does it aspire to be. Though several contributions on this blog were written by a journalist, and with the exception of one, they were all op-eds.

As it says in the header, this blog consists of observations, ruminations, and commentary. Consequently, what I write and post are my personal, but first-hand, observations, and information gathered directly from a source, unless I quote information in the public domain, but most of all they are my personal opinions. I am not a journalist but a businessman who publishes this blog as a hobby and as a vehicle to present a different opinion to people who read and want to know more about Cambodia.

In the case of Dey Krahom I was accused of not doing enough research. I don’t remember one piece, including the one about Dey Krahom, where more extensive ‘research’ needs to be done, other than what I know and gleaned from various sources, including newspapers, legal material, and protagonists in the story. My contributions are no legal briefs, and do not claim to use legally relevant verbiage nor arguments that may be presented in a court. But I am fairly conversant with many aspects of the Cambodian legal framework. Most of it is readily available in English translations on the internet these days. Although I do speak Khmer fairly well, my knowledge of the Khmer alphabet is still rudimentary.

In that sense the post on Dey Krahom must be read as a discussion not a legal presentation. My detractors write in the same style, therefore, I don’t see that any criticism in this respect is valid. I am not above using derisory or deprecatory terms with other bloggers and neither are they. I believe this is still in the realm of fairness. I don’t use profane language here or on any other blog.

When I use ‘facts’ I can substantiate them. Contending something doesn’t necessarily mean it is a fact. I may just express a thought. When I dispute something, e. g. that the inhabitants of Dey Krahom didn’t have legal title to the land under Cambodian law, I make that statement in the knowledge that none of those titles, or similarly adequate documents according to the land law, were presented to the management of Dey Krahom. My argument in this dispute has been that Dey Krahom was a slum, nothing else. Slums need to be reclaimed as they constitute a health hazard, not only to the dwellers themselves but to the general public, notwithstanding the ownership issue. As such, the municipality would have had every right to expropriate the ‘owners’; naturally, with adequate compensation.

And compensation is what it was all about. The people didn’t object to be moved to another location. What they wanted was, plain and simple, higher compensation than what 7NG offered. If memory serves me right, 7NG started with $500 per family (which was pitiable, but then that was back at a time when the real estate prices hadn’t soared yet), and in the end they offered $20,000, sometimes it was reported even $30,000, to the remaining families there. Most of the original inhabitants took one offer or another and moved to the village the company had built on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, or elsewhere. Finally, when even this rather adequate offer was refused 7NG moved in and forcibly evicted the dwellers. This is what would have happened in any other country as well – for those who don’t know or believe this, please Google this subject for the U. S. or the UK on the internet. If there were some shady dealings at the beginning of this whole quagmire, I don’t dispute that. We all know this is a way of life not only in Cambodia. Does this make it right? No, certainly not. Believe it or not, I do support the right to protest, and I do believe in the rule of law. I don’t encourage or condone human rights abuses. But this is not what really happened, in my opinion. What reined here and dictated the dwellers’ actions was obstinacy at best and greed at worst.

Clearly, the remaining families, judging from newspaper reports, were encouraged by disingenuous NGOs and other, mostly, foreigners who didn’t see the reality of the marketplace but were obviously blinded by the soaring economy of 2005 to 2008. They abetted the dwellers to hold out and ask for more, directly or indirectly. The dwellers were only a bouncing ball in their game for media attention and for the promotion of their agenda, and possibly their quest for more donations. After all, this was an ideal issue to justify the existence of some of them. They couldn’t have hoped for a better one. The more publicity about their role, the more donations would possibly come in. The story about that Canadian humanitarian worker who died in a moped crash in Sihanoukville and the breathless activitiy of that NGO collecting donations is one prime example of an NGO gone awry.

Realistically, NGOs ought to have advised them to accept the last offer and taken the money. When it was all over, the dwellers saw the mistake they had made and wanted to salvage the situation by asking for reinstatement of the offer - why not take it in the first place?

Oh yes, there were outcries by human rights organizations – plenty of them. On the surface it appeared that severe human rights abuses had occurred. In my opinion, though, they failed to look at the background of this whole saga more thoroughly. They just saw the dwellers as victims, who in part they are, but there could have been a way out if they had struck a compromise. The UN office didn’t even publish anything until well after the dwellers were removed. The vast majority of Phnom Penh’s population didn’t pay attention to this matter at all, not to mention that most of the rural population had never heard of it.

I will be happy to post any genuine documents relating to this story in both English and Khmer on this site. If they prove me wrong, I will be happy to acknowledge that and state this here. Anybody who cares can send those documents to me by email, or cite a download link. If anybody cares to read up on the Social Land Concession Decree or the Land Law of 2001, they can be viewed here

http://www.gocambodia.com/Laws/pdf/LAW-01-Land%20Law-E.pdf

http://www.gocambodia.com/laws/pdf/ANK-19-03-Social%20Concessions-E.pdf

Now, before anybody starts ripping me apart for this commentary, please read it carefully before you go on a rant. And for those of you who are familiar with the U. S., I am no Rush Limbaugh, but I do have opinions, without being opinionated, and I don't accuse my fellow bloggers of criminal wrongdoings, so please refrain from indicating that I am engaged in illegal activities.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

That was a very helpful commentary. As usual nothing is as it seems in Cambodia.

Adam

Anonymous said...

Some of your 'facts' are not right...

1/ When I dispute something, e. g. that the inhabitants of Dey Krahom didn’t have legal title to the land under Cambodian law, I make that statement in the knowledge that none of those titles, or similarly adequate documents according to the land law, were presented to the management of Dey Krahom

This is plainly wrong.

Most of the Dey Krahorm families were rightful land owners as per the 2001 land law you link to in your blog.

Article 30 & 31 states that anyone living on a piece of land for more than five years prior to the promulgation of the law shall be granted land titles once that person proves it (using official documents such as election card, family book, citizen's ID, etc. etc.).

Even the municipality itself still recognized 91 families - while community representatives were saying 152 families remained - as being legitimate land owners a day before the eviction.

2/ Finally, when even this rather adequate offer was refused 7NG moved in and forcibly evicted the dwellers.

The market value of land in Dey Krahorm is estimated by agencies such as Bonna Realty group to be between US $3,000 to $5,000. The last price offered to Dey Krahorm families was $20,000, which is way, way below market value.

Deputy governor Mann Chhoeun claimed that Dey Krahorm families were not being 'reasonable' and that the eviction was necessary seeing how one family had demanded US $120,000 for 52 meter square of land. Take the time to make the maths, you'll see this is still way below market value.

Cambodian law is clear on this issue: people have the right to choose between relocation of fair compensation. Whether you think they are good looking or not is irrelevant. Fair compensation of a land and its property is based on market value.

3/ When it was all over, the dwellers saw the mistake they had made and wanted to salvage the situation by asking for reinstatement of the offer - why not take it in the first place?

What's your argument here? The last standing Dey Krahorm families - recognized owners even by the municipality - evicted on January 24 should be punished and not be given money? These people are entitled to compensation; giving them the last promised amount won't be fair, and certainly won't cover for the property that got lost during forced eviction, put not doing so would simply further highlight the lack of any respect by company and government vis-a-vis the people.

4/ The vast majority of Phnom Penh’s population didn’t pay attention to this matter at all, not to mention that most of the rural population had never heard of it.

Clearly you've not visited communities at risk of evictions such as Boeung Kak lake, group 78, Rigriey village, etc. The eviction mattered for these people, it mattered for the poorest in Phnom Penh who are legal owners of land but were never given official titles by authority as they should would they respect the 2001 Land Law. The level of violence during the forced eviction of the remaining families living Dey Krahorm was a strong message to everyone in Phnom Penh: do not think of protecting your land, we'll get you out no matter what.

Anon

KJE said...

It is sort of moot at this point. But please read article 30.1 carefully. It says, 'that can lawfully be privately possessed.' Dey Krahom was public land from the get-go so this is where the crux is.

Market value is what a buyer is willing to pay - nothing more nothing less. Right now there isn't anybody that will pay the prices you quoted. Period.

Estimates for the PP population range from 1 million to 1.4 million people. The areas you mention are just a tiny fraction. Of course, they care as they are affected. But the vast majority simply does not care. Period.

As I said before, it is not that I don't empathize with these people but the full context is never addressed properly.

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