In a large conference room on the top floor of the Land Management Ministry, residents of Phnom Penh’s iconic White Building trickled in on Monday to accept a final compensation offer of $1,400 per square meter for their homes.
Back in October, the government announced plans to demolish the housing complex and replace it with an $80 million, 21-story complex built by Japanese developer Arakawa.
More than half of the building’s homeowners—262 out of 493—have formally agreed to the offer over the past three days, according to a ministry Facebook post. But they need many more. At a Friday meeting announcing the end of monthslong negotiations, Land Management Minister Chea Sophara implored residents to agree to the offer because even “if three families remain, we can’t knock down the building.”
Several homeowners interviewed on Sunday insisted they wouldn’t agree to the $1,400 figure and planned to stay in the building unless more money was offered. No deadline for residents to agree to the deal has been announced.
More than 20 officials worked through the King’s Birthday holiday from Saturday to on Monday to facilitate the agreements, and the ministry’s Facebook page has posted a stream of photographs and updates about the process.
The openness of negotiations has provided a stark contrast to past violent evictions, such as those in the Boeng Kak and Borei Keila neighborhoods—a fact one rights worker attributed to the upcoming commune elections.
Niem Yuthany, 56, one of the residents who visited the ministry on Monday, echoed many of her neighbors by saying she had no choice but to agree to the offer.
“The government is developing it,” she said. “We can’t do anything.”
But when asked about her experience with the compensation process, Ms. Yuthany had no complaints, saying it had been “easy.”
Sia Phearum, secretariat-director of the Housing Rights Task Force, said he had not seen such an effective compensation negotiation during his nine years working in housing rights.
“I think the minister of land management is doing a good job,” he said, crediting the ministry’s improvement to the government’s desire to win commune elections next month. “That’s why [the government] has to work with better attitudes. If not, they will lose the voters.”