Owners of colonial-era houses want company to rebuild, pay compensation
Vattanac Properties Limited said yesterday they would not halt construction that has damaged historic buildings along Phnom Penh’s popular Sisowath Quay despite being ordered to do so by Daun Penh district deputy governor Sok Penhvuth.
At a meeting yesterday between Vattanac representatives, municipal officials, affected businesses and owners of properties damaged by Vattanac’s construction, Mr Penhvuth threatened to confiscate the property developer’s equipment if they did not stop building.
“Firstly, the company must postpone construction immediately,” Mr Penhvuth said at the meeting.
“Secondly, the working group, which will be formed…will go to the site and measure the effects of the construction on the buildings,” the deputy governor said, adding that the district would appeal to the municipality for further action if construction continues.
Vattanac representatives present at the meeting, one of whom refused to give her name to a reporter, repeatedly claimed that halting construction on the building site would inflict even more damage to the affected French colonial-era buildings, since without a foundation, the land will continue to move.
Vattanac Properties Co Ltd forms part of a family-owned group of enterprises, which includes Vattanac Bank, Progress Import and Export Co Ltd, the local partner of Cambodia Brewery Ltd.
Among the affected businesses on the block of busy riverfront shops and apartments between streets 178 and 184, New Sai Travel agency was forced to move to a new location and German restaurant Edelweiss shut down completely.
Daun Penh district issued a notice Friday requesting renters and owners in 11 shops and apartments units to vacate warning that the building could collapse.
“I would like to apologize to all residents…it is our mistake that we did not have good management,” said one representative at the meeting at the Daun Penh district offices, adding that she would take the issue up with her superiors. But on the issue of ceasing work, she was unequivocal.
“If we stop, we will not be responsible for any ruin of the building,” she warned the meeting.
Mr Penhvuth said at the end of meeting that actions would be taken against Vattanac if they did not stop construction.
“If they keep on constructing, we have the administrative actions to confiscate their equipment,” he said.
Ruos Sok Sambo, who owns two apartments next to the construction site, said during yesterday’s meeting that his property was irreversibly damaged, and needed to be completely rebuilt.
“I had my engineer check the damages already and rehabilitation of the house is impossible,” he said, adding that he and his family needed money to pay rent on their new home.
“For [the cost of] living outside our house, I would like the company to be responsible for this,” he said.
Another apartment owner, Sok Em, said that she too wanted Vattanac to rebuild the building they have damaged beyond repair.
“The walls are cracked and the doors are curved, which I cannot fix,” she said. “Now, I am so fearful and nervous because I make my living by renting this house.”
Prak Sideth, another representative from Vattanac Properties, assured the residents at the meeting that officials from his company will be in touch with them within one week to discuss the damages to their properties, and to discuss compensation.
“We have an insurance company, and they are working on the issue,” he said. Mr Sideth declined to speak with reporters.
Deputy district governor Mr Penhvuth and the deputy bureau chief of the municipal department of construction Khorn Sothavuth have both stated that Vattanac did not have the proper authorization to begin construction at the site on Sisowath Quay.
Phoueng Sophean, secretary of state at the Ministry of Land Management, said yesterday that his ministry had approved a building license for Vattanac at the Sisowath Quay location.
However, Mr Sophean said that he did not know when the license was approved or what Vattanac was planning to build on the site.
Regardless of the license, Mr Sophean said that the municipality should take legal action if Vattanac did not follow the municipality’s order to halt construction when told to do so.
“If they stubbornly keep going with construction, they must face the court,” he said.
Contacted yesterday, municipal officials said that they have been kept in the dark about the ministry’s authorization for Vattanac to build. Municipal officials are also in the dark as to what Vattanac plans to build on the site.
“If they have permission, why do we not see it,” Mr Penhvuth said yesterday.
Mr Sothavuth, the deputy bureau chief for construction of the Phnom Penh Municipality, said he had been prevented from even visiting the construction site.
“I went down to the construction sites, but they blocked us and we could talk to the company,” he said yesterday.
The only construction done on the unknown structure thus far appears to be a series of wooden and steel support beams propped against the south side of the damaged riverfront building, and a very large, water-filled hole.
Australian architectural historian Darryl Collins the damaged building was one of the few remaining single-unit French colonial shop houses left in Phnom Penh.
“It is right in the colonial heartland of Phnom Penh…. It is probably the biggest units of its kind, and it is of course in a prominent location.”
He also said that the entirety of the damage inflicted is still yet to be seen.
“Sometimes, it takes months for the structure to react to damage. Cracks will open, it is inevitable,” he said, adding that even if a few of the apartments needed to be entirely rebuilt, that it did not mean the end of the whole complex.