Developer Might Buy White Building Units—if Government Asks

The company redeveloping Phnom Penh’s iconic White Building housing block said it might buy out current residents unwilling to wait for the project’s completion in four years, an about-turn that failed to assuage some unhappy tenants.

Alex Yasumoto, CEO of Arakawa, the Japanese development company in charge of the redevelopment, said on Wednesday that it might offer financial compensation in order to move the $80 million project forward, a change from its past position.

cam photo white building channa
Motorists drive past the White Building in Phnom Penh in September last year. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“If the government asks us to, yeah, maybe,” he said. “The government controls, and we follow everything.”

The housing block in Chamkar Mon district is home to more than 500 families and small businesses. In September 2014, it was condemned due to safety concerns, leaving its fate up in the air until October last year, when the government announced the deal with Arakawa.

Five floors of the new 21-story building are earmarked for housing current residents, but many residents have said they would rather sell the rights to their units. Ministry officials have told them Arakawa would buy them out, even as company officials said it had no intention of doing so.

“I don’t know if people want to sell or move back. The government talks with them, not us,” Mr. Yasumoto said. As to the compensation the company would potentially offer to residents, he said, “We will follow the instructions of the government.”

Mr. Yasumoto said the government had yet to communicate its findings from a recent survey of how many residents intended to move into the new building and how many might seek a buyout, stalling the start of construction for temporary housing behind the Royal Phnom Penh Hospital. He said he expected the results to be made clear by the end of next month. “Not so speedy—it takes time,” he said.

Keurt Sareth, a Land Mangement Ministry undersecretary of state, said the results of the survey found that more than 40 percent of residents wanted to sell their apartments.

“The remaining portion of over 50 percent want to live in the development in the area,” he said. “The company needs to negotiate a price with the residents, although the ministry will offer an opinion.”

The government cannot force Arakawa to buy the units the residents want to sell, “so instead we will try to encourage the company,” he said.

Dy Sophannaramany, a representative of White Building residents, disputed the survey results, saying that nearly 90 percent of families wanted buyouts.

And Khieu Bunthoeun, another representative, said it was too soon for the government to draw conclusions from its survey because some villagers had yet to be asked.

“There are still more people who have not yet received their land certificates—even myself. So they have to talk with us about money instead of starting the project,” he said.

“I have never seen the company visit us to do so, or the Ministry of Land Management,” Mr. Bunthoeun added. “I don’t understand why they don’t come talk to residents about their desires.”

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