Royal Group chairman Kith Meng was granted a high-level meeting with government officials on Friday to discuss a jetty that his firm began building on a popular beach near Sihanoukville without state approval, but was apparently unable to convince authorities to allow him to finish construction.
Mr. Meng controls vast holdings across a range of sectors and serves as a personal adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen.
On January 20, his conglomerate was ordered to stop construction on the 40-meter-long jetty, which was to serve as a hub for ferrying construction materials to Koh Rong island, where swaths of forest have been cleared to make way for a $30 million tourism development project.
After the meeting at the Land Management Ministry in Phnom Penh on Friday—which was attended by about two dozen people, including senior police and military police officials—Secretary of State Pen Sophal suggested that the jetty would have to be demolished in the interest of tourism, without specifically saying so.
“The company will study to find a new place to build. The company has agreed to change where they build the port because we need to balance tourism and development,” Mr. Sophal said, adding that Royal Group supported the government’s policy to carefully manage development along the coast and islands off it.
In the meantime, he said, “We will ask the government to use some part of the main port in Sihanoukville to help develop Koh Rong or any other island.
Mr. Meng declined to comment.
The order to cease construction on the jetty was sent to Preah Sihanouk provincial governor Yun Min by the National Committee for Cambodia Bay Management and Development and signed by Land Management Minister Im Chhun Lim, who also serves as the committee’s chairman.
The letter said Royal Group asked permission to begin building the jetty in August, but went ahead with construction at the same time.
In response, Royal Group claimed that it had received permission from Chhit Sokhon when he was still the provincial governor. Mr. Sokhon, however, said that he only approved a “temporary jetty” and that what was eventually constructed did not fit this description.
Deputy provincial governor Chhin Seng Nguon had said earlier this week that Royal Group had twice defied orders to stop construction, and would be forced to demolish the jetty.
On Friday, however, local officials were less strident, with Sihanoukville governor Y Sokleng saying only that Royal Group had put a four-point plan to the government, which he refused to outline.
“There has been no decision to demolish the jetty…but we do not accept the jetty there and it must relocate,” he said.
Un Thy, director of the provincial land management department, said it would be difficult to force Royal Group’s hand.
“The letter clearly says to demolish the jetty, but who can implement it?”