Almost a week after asserting that Phnom Penh’s cherished White Building was slated for demolition, Municipal Governor Pa Socheatvong on Sunday contradicted his earlier statement, saying residents would be responsible for bringing the aging apartment block up to code.
“The time has come to knock it down,” Mr. Socheatvong said last week, explaining that a recent government inspection deemed the building unsafe.
The governor’s comments provoked an immediate backlash from tenants and civil-society groups, who urged City Hall to restore the iconic building instead. On Thursday, municipal spokesman Long Dimanche said his boss had been misunderstood, and that the local government had no immediate plans to raze the structure.
Contacted Sunday, Mr. Socheatvong sidestepped this inconsistency, saying only that because the White Building had been officially condemned, it was the residents’ responsibility to handle the necessary renovations.
“The municipal land management department sent its officials to study the building and discovered that it was corrupted, even down to the metal support elements,” he said.
“We want to fix it, but we don’t know how to go about it, so…we will let [the residents] think about it,” he said.
“Let them think about this on their own,” he said, declining to answer further questions.
On Saturday, City Hall also released a statement saying it did not intend to force the While Building’s residents to move.
“The city has no intention or plan to swap [the White Building],” the statement says.
“And if the citizens agree to a swap, City Hall will intervene to find [replacement] apartments…as a way [of] avoiding the dangers caused by a collapse one day,” it says.
Nhem Sovann, chief of Village 2 in Tonle Bassac commune, much of which is covered by the White Building, said Sunday that financing a total upgrade of the structure was beyond the means of its occupants.
“The important point is that local residents do not have the ability to do this on their own,” he said.