In a slap at the National Assembly and Senate, which recently disclosed owning fishing lots and using the receipts to pay expenses, opposition lawmakers have purchased a fishing lot to give to 350 disadvantaged families in Kandal province.
Meanwhile, the government has begun announcing plans to turn significant portions of fishing lots leased to businessmen back into areas for public fishing, in order to help private, local fisherman have access to the food they need to survive.
Sam Rainsy Party lawmakers Yim Sovann, of Kandal province, and Kim Suor Phirith, of Banteay Meanchey province, paid about $1,700 of their own money to lease a 10-square-km fishing lot for one year in Prek Tauch village, Prek Tonlap commune, Leuk Dek district. On Thursday, district officials decided to give free access to that fishing lot.
Kim Suor Phirith said they purchased the lot from local businessmen after finding out about the 350 families, who say they have suffered since they lost their fishing rights a few years ago. And things have gotten even worse this year due to the floods.
He said the lot was formerly an area where fishermen could fish freely before it was sold to the businessmen. The fishermen protested, but were turned down. The lawmakers said they weren’t sure when the lot would be transferred.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy lauded the purchase Thursday, saying lawmakers are giving “a hook so fishermen can fish, not just giving fish to eat,” referring to government food handout programs.
“This is historic, the first time that parliamentarians returned fishing rights to the hungry fishermen being deprived by businessmen and corrupt fishery officials,” Sam Rainsy said in front of the National Assembly, where he visited dozens of Kandal province flood victims.
The opposition lawmakers criticized the government for not quickly returning more fishing lots back to the public, as promised recently by Prime Minister Hun Sen.
But Teng Lav, undersecretary of state for the Ministry of Agriculture, said Thursday “the process is going forward.”
Portions of three Siem Reap province fishing lots, with a value of less than about $7,700 each, will be handed over to local fishermen next year, according to provincial Agriculture Department Director Tat Bunchoeun, who said 30 percent of the seven lots in the province will be made public.
But some villagers have asked for more than 30 percent, Tat Bunchoeun said. “We will send their suggestions to the government.”
Tith Sam Oeun, Pursat province’s agriculture department director, said his office has worked out maps setting aside as much as 40 percent of some fishing lots for public use.
The National Assembly and Senate have admitted they were using profits from fishing lots to construct and repair their buildings. Two fishing lots in Kompong Thom province were recently given to the Senate by the Ministry of Agriculture, and National Assembly members confirmed that the body owned some lots.
Such ownership has been criticized by fisheries experts and opposition lawmakers.
Meanwhile, only 58 of 122 National Assembly members showed up Thursday, well short of the 86 needed for a quorum. CPP and opposition parliamentarians remain deadlocked over a bill that would guarantee the government would make up for any losses a Chinese company would sustain while building a hydroelectric project.