Opposition party leader Sam Rainsy continues to hammer the government over alleged land grabs, but instead of rural conflicts, now he’s focusing on ownership in the urban areas of Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville.
Carefully timed to get the attention of the donor nations before the Consultative Group meets May 24 in Paris, Sam Rainsy has delivered 320 pages of documents to the embassy of Japan, the largest donor nation to Cambodia.
The documents, collected and organized by the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia, deal with the period from 1989 through the 1993 elections, and reflect growing concern by Untac that profitable hotels and restaurants would end up in the hands of politicians, and that the badly needed tax revenue would not go to finance government programs.
Untac researched and compiled a list of 34 long-term lease contracts between businesses and the municipality of Phnom Penh that were signed between 1989-93. They included such prime real estate as the Cambodiana Hotel, the Hotel Monorom, Hotel Asie, Angkor Restaurant, Hawaii Restaurant and La Pailotte. The leases on the Untac list were signed for five to 35 years. The files contain no information on any property transactions after 1993.
The Sihanoukville files follow the development of lots for tourist hotels, and include Untac documents which suggest that irregularities in the recording of contracts and titles made it possible for political officials to gain control of the valuable property.
Sam Rainsy received the files in 1993 in his capacity as Cambodia’s Finance Minister. Seven years later, he claims the urban land grabbing just gets worse.
“The cases include fraudulent sales or transfers of land belonging to the State—which still possesses 80 percent of all land in this formerly communist country—by officials of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party,” Sam Rainsy said.
“Those transactions made in the early 1990s involved tens of millions of US dollars. Since 1993, those transactions have only increased in number and size.“
Not surprisingly, CPP spokesman Khieu Kanharith took issue with Sam Rainsy’s charges.
“If we owned 80 percent of all land, we would be the richest party in the world,“ Khieu Kanharith said. “If he [Sam Rainsy] were to look carefully now, he might find that some of his old comrades own that land.”
Sam Rainsy said he waited until now to share the files because the land issue is now in the forefront. “Donor countries have started to stress fiscal transparency and good governance,” he said.
A Japanese embassy official said he believed a staff member had received the documents, but to his knowledge no discussion had taken place about them.