White Building Residents Asked to ‘Help’ CPP

Land Management Minister Chea Sophara on Friday reminded more than 200 residents and soon-to-be evictees of Phnom Penh’s iconic White Building to “help us back” by voting in upcoming elections in return for the government negotiating compensation for their properties.

While he did not go as far as local village chiefs the day before, who explicitly told residents to vote for the ruling party, the message was clear.

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White Building residents attend a meeting with Land Management Minister Chea Sophara in Phnom Penh on Friday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“I know brothers and sisters want to get some money,” Mr. Sophara, a longtime CPP lawmaker, told the crowd. “But when you all get money, please help us back by voting in the election.”

About 500 families and small businesses living and operating in the 1960s public housing development in Phnom Penh’s Chamkar Mon district face eviction to make way for a $80 million, 21-story complex. Authorities announced back in 2014 that the building was unsafe.

Although five floors in the new development have been earmarked for current residents, many said they would prefer cash to waiting for the building’s completion, leading the government to negotiate with the project’s Japanese developer, Arakawa.

The minister’s appeal followed a more direct announcement by two village chiefs on Thursday, who told residents to vote for the CPP to expedite the compensation process.

Mr. Sophara said Arakawa had agreed to $1,100 per square meter in compensation for apartments under 30 square meters and $1,260 per square meter for units above that size.

“But I am worried brothers and sisters will move out without voting in the election,” he said.

Most of the crowd began shouting that the ruling party would win their vote if the government earned them fair compensation.

Residents said on Friday that the current compensation offers were far too low.

Mr. Sophara said the residents were pushing for between $2,000 and $2,500 per square meter, which was unrealistic, and he would instead be asking the developer for an additional $50 per square meter.

Chey Rasmei, a 60-year-old resident of the building, said the roughly $30,000 in compensation she would get under the proposal would not be enough.

“How I can buy a new house with that?” she asked. “We have been voting for the Cambodian People’s Party for a long time now, so they have to find a solution for us.”

And if the government and developer didn’t reach an agreeable sum, “we will just keep living here,” she said.

Chhum Sakan, another 60-year-old resident of the block, said she would only agree to any proposal that offered her at least $2,000 per square meter.

She also rebuffed the minister’s call to vote.

“It’s our decision which party to vote for,” she said. “They are the government, so their duty is to find a solution for the people.”

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