NGOs Call for White Building Inspection Report

A day after Phnom Penh Governor Pa Socheatvong effectively shrugged off responsibility for upgrading the city’s historic White Building despite declaring it structurally unsound, NGOs on Monday called for the municipal government to produce an inspection report so major renovations on the aging apartment block can be carried out, if necessary.

According to housing-rights NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT), a campaign to upgrade the 1960s-era building has been underway since last year.

But in the absence of a report outlining the structural deficiencies of the building, STT executive director Ee Sarom said Monday that residents and civil-society groups could only do so much.

“The residents are willing to fix it themselves and they are ready to contribute the money and the labor,” Mr. Sarom said. “So far, we have fixed the leaking roof, the rails of the stairs and paint.”

Reiterating the claims of many residents, Mr. Sarom said municipal land management officials had not, in fact, conducted an inspection of the building.

But Sung Sochara, deputy director of the municipal department of land management and urban planning, said Monday that the structure has been inspected a total of three times, with the latest audit being carried out last year.

Mr. Sochara also said that City Hall last year issued a directive that legally removed itself from responsibility for the safety of the White Building’s residents.

After determining that “the building could not be restored,” the municipal government informed residents of the danger and urged them to move out. The occupants “said that they would rather die on their land,” he said.

“If we hadn’t issued a notice to inform them, this would be our responsibility,” Mr. Sochara said. “But we told them and we met with them to show the problems, so it is their responsibility.”

Anne Lemaistre, country representative of Unesco, which works with the government to preserve historically significant buildings, said she would be willing to participate in a discussion about the fate of the White Building.

“If they have an inspection—and it has to be done by engineers— we can start a discussion then,” she said.

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