The Bigger Problem Behind Cambodia’s Building Collapses

The recent spate of incidents raises a broader concern about safety standards in the country.

On January 3, another multi-story building under construction collapsed in Cambodia, this time in Kep province, killing at least 36 people, including six children. It is the third major building disaster in eight months, after 28 died in Sihanoukville in June 2018 and three in Siem Reap in December. Unsurprisingly, there has been a considerable outpouring of grief and sorrow, but also of anger about why little seems to have improved since last June when the government and Prime Minister Hun Sen promised a widespread inspection of construction safety standards.

Naturally, anger has been directed at the repressive ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and Hun Sen, who marks his 35th year in power this month, making him one of the world’s longest-ruling leaders. Sam Rainsy, the exiled “acting president” of a now-dissolved opposition party, has tried to make political capital by claiming, on his Facebook page, that “Hun Sen is responsible for these recent successive tragedies.” Hun Sen, however, deflected criticism by stating that building collapses “happen elsewhere… including in the United States.” True, but such comments from the prime minister have done little to assuage a public that understands Cambodia has unique problems that must be addressed: widespread corruption; weak government enforcement of laws; unscrupulous businessmen cutting costs with substandard products; and poor worker safety standards.

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