neak leoung town, Prey Veng province – It took Phouk Houn and her husband, Saeng Bunry, more than 15 years to build the two-story house that sits along National Road 1 in Prey Veng. Unlike many of the houses along the road, their house is made of brick and concrete, a fact that is not lost on them since the government is asking them to dismantle their house piece-by-piece and reconstruct it exactly five meters away.
Phouk Houn and Saeng Bunry are not alone. Approximately 800 families living along National Road 1 have moved their houses several meters from the road because a massive four-year, $40 million rehabilitation project is widening the road by several meters.
Phouk Houn and Saeng Bunry are different because they have essentially refused to move. They, along with a handful of families along the road, have chosen to stay where they are until the government pays them enough money to compensate them the cost of reconstructing their house.
“Me and my wife, when we were young, worked very hard to get our land,” Saeng Bunry said. “Now we are not so young and cannot work so hard. We only want the government to pay us the cost of moving so we don’t lose what we have worked for.”
The government has already compensated an estimated 800 families along National Road 1 for moving their homes, said Hang Putea, director of the Neutral Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections. The government contracted Nicfec in February to monitor the government’s compensation effort for people displaced by the road rehabilitation.
Around 30 families have either not received compensation or, like Saeng Bunry and Phouk Houn, have not agreed to the amount the government has offered them, Hang Putea said.
The government currently has a $1.07 million fund to be used for compensation, officials said. People interviewed along National Road 1 said the government gives around $200-$400 to families who must move wood houses and $900-$1,000 for people with larger brick houses.
In addition, households that were established on the property before 1993 will be paid slightly more than those who have lived there after 1993, villagers said.
“The government has the right to set the compensation plan, but the compensation was still too low for the people, so it should be increased,” Hang Putea said. “The compensation was not adequate for people because they are still poor.”
The construction along National Road 1, which is in the first phase, will eventually widen 160 km of road in Cambodia and 80 km in Vietnam. When completed, officials say the new road will greatly improve trade between Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City and, ultimately, between the rest of Cambodia and Vietnam.
The project will cost an estimated $195.5 million—$50.7 million in Cambodia and $144.8 million in Vietnam—with the Asian Development Bank loaning the governments of both countries a total of approximately $140 million. Cambodia and Vietnam will make up the remaining cost, according to the ADB Web site.
As a condition of the loan, the ADB required the Cambodian government to come up with a compensation plan, said Anthony Jude, Deputy Head of the Asian Development Bank in Cambodia. Jude confirmed that 30 families have either not received their compensation or are “holding out” until the government gives them a better deal.
Jude added that Nicfec’s monitoring of the compensation effort has not been adequate, adding that “Nicfec is not experienced in monitoring for displacement.”
Nicfec and the Committee for Free and Fair Elections received government contracts in February to monitor road construction despite the fact that neither election monitoring group had experience in monitoring displacement or compensation efforts. Comfrel is also monitoring the displacement of people along 577 km of National Road 5, 6 and 7.
The government paid Nicfec $10,000 for their monitoring work and $43,000 to Confrel. Some NGOs were critical of the two election monitoring groups accepting government contracts, saying that Nicfec and Confrel were not experienced.
In addition, NGO Forum said the road monitoring contracts represent a conflict of interest because NGOs—especially NGOs that act as watchdogs during an election—should not accept money from the government.
Yong Oun would agree that the compensation plan has not been carried out well. The government paid $300 for Yong Oun to move his family 30 meters from the road to a plot of land that was “mud and pond.” Yong Oun, who since 1996 has lived approximately 10 km from the Neak Luong ferry in Prey Veng, said it took around one month for him to disassemble and reconstruct his house.
He spent more than $300 for foundation materials such as bricks and concrete so his house would not sink into the soft ground. Since his job as a national police officer only pays about $17 a month, he said he could barely afford to relocate and needed to take on additional work raising pigs in order to pay for the move.
Saeng Bunry and Phouk Houn tell a different story. They moved to their land in 1979 after the Khmer Rouge years. They built a small wood house on the land in the early 1980s, and after 10 years of working as farmers and selling gasoline and cigarettes from a roadside stand, they saved more than $20,000 so they could build their two-story house.
They didn’t stop there. In 1994, they bought the 108 square meter plot of land where their house now stands. They both proudly show off their laminated certificate of land ownership, signed in 1994 by then-Prey Veng governor Oung Kimsan.
Their land ownership, more than their brick and concrete house, is what separates them from their neighbors. The government owns virtually all the land 30 meters on both sides along the 160 km stretch of National Road 1. Since Saeng Bunry and Phouk Houn own their plot of land, they believe they can negotiate more money from the government.
Phouk Houn said last year the government offered them $6,000, but she said it would take at least $10,000 for the family to uproot their house and move it five meters. Added to that cost is the $2,000 their neighbors are charging them for the land where the government wants to move them—land they do not own.
“We don’t want more compensation for the trouble of moving,” Saeng Bunry said. “We just want to move our house and not lose money.”
(Additional reporting by Van Roeun)