Economics must sometimes trump environmental protection in the effort to pull Cambodians out of poverty, Prime Minister Hun Sen wrote in a Nov 2 letter to SRP lawmaker Son Chhay.
Hun Sen’s letter came in response to Son Chhay’s questioning of the government’s recent decisions to open 8,050 hectares of Mondolkiri’s 20,770 hectare Nam Lyr wildlife sanctuary and a host of islands off Cambodia’s southern coast to private development.
“The land that has been taken out for land concessions to invest or develop is to create employment especially for ethnic minority people,” Hun Sen wrote.
Mondolkiri is home to many ethnic Phnong, who revere a mountain within the Nam Lyr sanctuary as the birthplace of their ancestors. A private company already has a concession to mine that hill for granite.
Hun Sen said that 1.06 million of Mondolkiri’s 1.47 million hectares is protected with only about 11 percent of the province free for agricultural and business development.
The government has allowed companies to develop 15 islands off the coast of Sihanoukville and Kampot, and is preparing to sign contracts to develop seven more, Hun Sen wrote.
He said such development was crucial to draw more tourists and investment. “The main objective of the investment is eco-tourism, investment that can help preserve the forest environment,” he wrote.
“If the government keeps the islands free, the nation cannot get any income and anarchic activities can happen at any time,” he added.
Son Chhay said Thursday that he initially wrote to Hun Sen on Aug 17 because locals and NGOs questioned the benefits of the transferring state land to private companies.
He said the prime minister’s response failed to address fundamental questions about the transparency of bidding for such concessions.
He said he worried some investors are simply land speculators, who will flip properties once they go up in value, without developing them for the nation’s good.
“The government still tries to hide documents that the government negotiated with the private companies,” he said. “The documents should be public.”