A private firm has filled in about 60 hectares of shallow coastal waters in Kampot province—as part of a 200-hectare seafront port, hotel and residential housing project—without giving the Council for the Development of Cambodia a master plan of their proposed building activities, a CDC official said yesterday.
Yuon Heng, director of the Valuation and Incentives Department of the Cambodian Investment Board, which is part of the CDC, said the Keo Chea Property Development Company has not sent a final project plan to the CDC despite having already started to fill the once pristine coastline with sand.
The company’s months-long landfill activities, which have engendered stiff opposition from local fishing communities in the province, go against the procedures for implementing investment projects in Cambodia, Mr Heng said.
“Until now Keo Chea’s company has not submitted a master plan to us; they may be in the process in doing so,” he said. “Normally, the [development] company needs to submit the master plan before [starting] project activities,” he added.
Mr Heng declined, however, to comment as to whether the private company had violated the law or simply the requirements of its investment agreement with the CDC, the government body responsible for approving large-scale investment projects in Cambodia.
The Keo Chea seafront project in Kampot district’s Boeng Touk commune has become a focal point of a disagreement between Kampot provincial authorities and the Ministry of Agriculture. The ministry sent a letter earlier this month ordering the provincial authorities to suspend the project because the company was flouting the conditions of its contract with the CDC. Kampot Governor Khoy Khun Huor, however, defended the project and has refused to put a halt to it, claiming the company was meeting all conditions of its government contract and that the ministry did not have jurisdiction to order it shut down. Mr Khun Hour said he wrote to the CDC seeking clarification.
Mr Heng, from the CIB, said he had not seen the Kampot governor’s letter and refused to say which government body had authority in the dispute between the governor and the Agriculture Ministry.
“CDC just provides the general principles [for implementing investment projects] and relevant ministries continue to be involved in the progress [of the project],” he said.
Kampot Deputy Governor Heng Vantha yesterday echoed Governor Khun Hour’s recent argument that Keo Chea Property Development Company is meeting all its contractual obligations and argued that the required grand plan for the proposed port, hotel and residential housing could only be drawn up after the 200 hectares of seabed had been filled with sand.
“The master plan will be done after the filling the coastal waters. If we do not have the [filled] land, how can we do the master plan?” the deputy governor argued.
The deputy governor also claimed that the letter from Agriculture Minister Chan Sarun-which calls for the suspension of Keo Chea’s work-only indicates that the ministry is concerned about the project’s progress, which means that the ministry actually wants the work speeded up, and not stopped.
“I think the minister’s letter aims to push the project forward,” he said.
Agriculture Minister Chan Sarun and several other ministry officials could not be reached yesterday for comment on the disagreement over the project.
Jacob Jepsen, deputy head of the Danish International Development Agency, the leading development agency for fishing resources and coastal management in Cambodia, said yesterday that he could not provide a direct comment on the lack of a plan for the massive seafront project, but the absence of a plan had long been a concern.
“This was always a concern for us that there is no master plan,” Mr Jepsen said. “It’s crucial you have the documents in place before you start filling up. That’s not the situation in Kampot,” he added.
In early November, Danida voiced its concern over the Keo Chea project’s impact on local fisheries, mangrove forests and on a unique 24,000-hectare sea-grass ecosystem situated off the coast, while it also voiced concerns about an adjacent project, the “Kampot Special Economic Zone,” which is busy filling 1,000 hectares of seabed with sand.
Danida then asked the government to provide the master plan and reports on the project’s expected environmental and social impacts. Those documents have still not been provided.
Chan Dara, who represents residents in the affected coastal villages of Kep Thmei commune, said Keo Chea had started filling the seabed since September and estimated the company had filled about 60 hectares so far.
“They filled the coastal waters about 1,200 meters into the sea along 500 meters of coastline,” she said.
Businessman Keo Chea could not be reached for comment yesterday, but on Tuesday he said project activities has started only two months ago and that he had halted his work since the Agriculture Ministry issued its letter.
Since September hundreds of villagers from Kep Thmei and Totoeng Tngai villages in Boeng Touk commune have been protesting against the project, as they fear the project would destroy local fisheries and cut off their access to the sea.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said yesterday that after CDC-approval, investment projects fall under the authority of the provincial government, which then works with relevant ministries, but only the Ministry of Interior issue orders to provincial governors. In the Kampot case, since the governor refused to carry out the Agriculture Minister’s request, it would be an issue for the entire government cabinet and hence the final decision to stop or continue the Keo Chea project would ultimately fall to the prime minister.
“[The governor and agriculture ministry] have to seek approval from the prime minister,” Mr Siphan said.
“Only the prime minister could keep [the project] on or halt it, as I understand it.”