The Justice Minister on Tuesday ordered the Ratanakkiri Provincial Court’s prosecutor to investigate a complaint that the Tai Seng firm forged complaints that led to the dissolution of the province’s controversial rubber plantation collectives.
About 50 members of Ratanakkiri province’s disbanded “solidarity groups” demonstrated Monday outside the Justice Ministry claiming that Tai Seng Co had forged a complaint statement that was sent to the Agriculture Ministry allegedly by disgruntled plantation workers.
The written complaints of exploitation at the hands of the private businessmen who now control the so-called solidarity groups, which were established and run by the state in the communist 1980s, is said to have spurred the ministry to order their disbanding.
“The Ministry of Justice has received a complaint from representatives of the 34 solidarity groups requesting that the ministry intervene to the Ratanakkiri provincial prosecutor,” Ang Vong Vathana wrote in a letter that was disseminated by the group chiefs in Phnom Penh.
“The ministry has sent the complaints and relevant documents for [provincial prosecutor Mey Sokhan] to take immediate and appropriate measures according to the law,” he wrote.
Mey Sokhan said Wednesday that he was unwell and unable to comment.
Ly Phalla, director-general of the rubber department at the Agriculture Ministry, could not be reached for comment .
On Monday, Ly Phalla said the ministry’s decision to lay the solidarity groups to rest was decided independently of complaint letters.
The owners of the solidarity groups have been severely criticized for operating merely as middlemen and skimming large profits from the latex collected by their poorly paid rubber tappers, which they then sell at a substantial profit to Tai Seng company, which has a government concession to buy all raw latex produced in the province.
The solidarity group plantations, which are spread over 1,300 hectares of land in Ratanakkiri, were officially retired by the ministry last week and Tai Seng was placed in control of their management. Tai Seng Co Director-General Ly Hong Sin denied that his company had forged complaint letters.
“I don’t need to forge any statement. [My] company has requested the dissolution of the solidarity groups since 1998,” he said by telephone Wednesday.
Ly Hong said that his firm had given solidarity group workers until today to either vacate the plantations or agree to work for him, although the deadline was extended to Nov 20.
“This is their last chance,” Ly Hong Sin said. “So far there are no registrants to work with [my] company; they are busy protesting in Phnom Penh,” he said.
Chhe Chan, a representative of the protesting solidarity group owners, said no one would work for Tai Seng Co. “This is our plantation. We won’t stay under the management of a foreign company, we won’t allow a Chinese company to control us,” he said Wednesday.