Hun Sen attends dinner, presentation in China

May 22nd, 2014 , The Cambodia Daily

Accompanied by his wife, Bun Rany, Prime Minister Hun Sen continued his trip to China on Tuesday evening by attending a dinner reception hosted by Chinese President Xi Jinping, according to state news agency Agence Kampuchea Press.

Mr. Hun Sen and his delegation of high-level officials had earlier in the day attended a presentation detailing China’s program of reforms and decentralization, AKP reported. …

On Monday, the prime minister met with Cao Peixi, chairman of China Huaneng Group, which is one of two investors in the 400-MW Lower Sesan 2 hydropower dam in Stung Treng province, it reported. Mr. Cao told the prime minister that the project would be completed by 2017 at a total cost of $977 million. …

Simon Henderson

Ratanakkiri homes razed as authorities move in

May 22nd, 2014 , The Cambodia Daily

More than 400 people clashed with police and military police in Ratanakkiri province on Wednesday as authorities attempted to bulldoze their houses to make way for a rubber company plantation, villagers said.

Authorities managed to bulldoze the houses of about 200 families, who they said had only recently moved to the site on the road linking O’Chum district and Banlung district, while a group of about 100 other families managed to prevent the destruction of their houses. …

Deputy provincial police chief Phen Dina said the families were living on the land in O’Chum district illegally and had been ordered out.

“Our forces went there to exercise the warrant from the provincial court to move the people from the slums that have built houses on state land,” he said. “It is the first step to removing people who are living illegally on state land.”

Chhay Thy, provincial coordinator of rights group Adhoc, said the Tai Seng Company had been given an Economic Land Concession for the land in 1996, which was transferred to the Swift Rubber Company in 2010. …

O’Chum district governor Pak Ton said that no such compensation would be offered.

“People can request a social land concession from authorities,” he said.

Ben Sokhean

Amret MFI gets $10M loan to aid SME reach

May 20th, 2014 , The Phnom Penh Post

Amret Microfinance received a $10 million boost yesterday by a loan from German development bank KfW, according to a joint statement from the finance institutions.

Chea Phalarin, chief executive officer of Amret Microfinance Institution, said yesterday that the new loan – equal to nearly double its profit for 2013 – will be used to increase access to financing for Cambodia’s smallest businesses. …

Hor Kimsay

Five months on, witnesses recall Muon Sokmean’s beating

May 20th, 2014 , The Cambodia Daily

Muon Sokmean, a 29-year-old garment worker, scrambled off Veng Sreng Street on January 3 with military police in violent pursuit, brandishing their batons.

What had been a militant protest for a $160 minimum wage in the garment sector—with many protesters lobbing rocks and crude Molotov cocktails at military police—had devolved into a pitched battle on one of Phnom Penh’s main industrial boulevards. …

On Saturday, Muon Sokmean passed away from the injuries he sustained on Veng Sreng Street, according to his family. The spokesman for the military police, however, said on Sunday that there is no evidence proving that his forces caused what would be the sixth fatality from the crackdown—five others were shot dead by military police. …

Brigadier General Kheng Tito, spokesman for the military police, said Monday that an investigation into Muon Sokmean’s death would only be launched if a complaint is filed by his family.

“If there is no complaint, there will be no investigation,” he said.

But Ms. Heam said she is too afraid to file a complaint against the same forces that she believes brutally ended her husband’s life.

Mech Dara and Alex Consiglio

Chong villagers block Chinese engineers from reaching dam

May 19th, 2014 , The Cambodia Daily

A group of 20 ethnic minority Chong villagers in Koh Kong province’s Areng Valley blocked the road Friday to prevent a group of Chinese engineers from reaching the site of a controversial proposed dam.

A number of Chong villagers have been intermittently camping near the road leading to the planned Stung Chhay Areng dam site for the past two months, hoping to stop a team of Chinese engineers trying to survey the area. They have already successfully stopped the workers twice before. …

In Kongchet, provincial coordinator for rights group Licadho, called on the government Friday to cancel the project, saying that it had become clear that the dam would not serve the needs of the local community. …

However, Pich Siyun, director of the Koh Kong provincial mines and energy department, said that the assessment of the project will move forward and if the Chong continue their roadblock, authorities will take action against them. …

Khuon Narim

Rising union leader behind Caltex station closures

May 19th, 2014 , The Cambodia Daily

In his fight for workers’ rights, Sar Mora has learned to be stubborn.

The union leader behind the closure of Caltex gas stations across Phnom Penh, Mr. Mora’s members remained on strike Sunday despite an apparent agreement on Friday for workers to return to their stations.

“We only agreed in principle,” Mr. Mora said Sunday, explaining he wants a written agreement before his members head back to work.

“We have not heard anything.”

About 300 Caltex workers, backed by the Cambodian Food and Service Workers Federation (CFSWF), have been on strike since last Monday, demanding a monthly wage increase from $110 to $160. …

Mr. Mora’s union previously took on another major brewery, Cambodia Brewery Ltd. (CBL), when he negotiated a $40 wage hike for its beer promoters, who had been making $60.

The key to effective organizing in the commercial sector, Mr. Mora said, is to target companies that are partly owned by international brands—not just by powerful Cambodian businessmen. …

Alex Consiglio and Mech Dara

Oz an example for mining reform

May 19th, 2014 , The Phnom Penh Post

Inspired by Australian mining regulations, the Cambodian government is considering a raft of changes to the mineral resources mining law, including a rethink of the sector’s comparatively high tax rate.

Citing discussions held with Western Australia state mining industry representatives last week, Meng Saktheara, secretary of state at the Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME), said Cambodia’s 30 per cent tax on mineral resources, mining, and oil and gas operations was outdated. …

Last week, Australia’s coalition government officially scrapped the country’s controversial mineral resources rent tax (MRRT), which was implemented in 2012 by the previous government. The MRRT placed a 22.5 per cent levy on mining companies’ profits above A$75 million (US$70 million). …


Eddie Morton

Rainsy attack ‘shocks’ tycoon

May 16th, 2014 , The Phnom Penh Post

Prominent businessman and Cambodian People’s Party Senator Ly Yong Phat yesterday questioned what he had done to warrant a verbal attack from opposition party leader Sam Rainsy, who said on Wednesday that the tycoon had grabbed land from people in Koh Kong province and should “be careful”.

Speaking to the Post yesterday, Yong Phat said that although he had not heard Rainsy’s comments – which were posted in a video on his Facebook page – directly, he wasn’t sure what Rainsy’s motives were for attacking him. …

Meas Sokchea

Workers fired after strike

May 16th, 2014 , The Phnom Penh Post

Two factories in the Manhattan Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Svay Rieng province’s Bavet town have fired more than 40 workers since thousands-strong strikes ended early this month, unions say.

Terminations at Best Way and Fico garment factories were bosses’ way of exacting revenge for the large-scale strike that closed entire SEZs for days, Meas Sokna, an official from the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, said. …

Sen David

Rubber prices tumble as industry panics

May 16th, 2014 , The Cambodia Daily

Cambodia’s steadily declining rubber prices have hit critically low levels that are destined to only get worse as Thailand prepares to offload huge rubber stocks, the secretary-general of the Association for Rubber Development of Cambodia said Thursday.

As the price of natural rubber has paralleled a global price drop, tumbling to $1,500 per ton, down 31 percent since the start of the year when rubber was selling at $2,200 per ton, Men Sopheak said the industry has been thrown into disarray. …

Approximately 30 to 40 percent of the 60 factories in Cambodia that process raw rubber have suspended operations and farmers are working with narrowing profit margins, he said.

Domestic and world prices have been declining for several years due to concerns of oversupply and slowing economic growth in China, the world’s largest importer of rubber.

Thailand, which supplies a third of global output, announced earlier this month it would sell its vast stockpile of about 200,000 tons, which it had amassed during its state-buying subsidy program in which farmers were paid above-market rates. …

Rubber exports during the first quarter of this year increased in volume but decreased in value compared to the same period last year. From January to March, Cambodia exported 19,041 tons—worth $37.6 million—compared with 15,018—worth $41.2 million—in 2013. …

You Seng, a rubber dealer in Tbong Khmum province, said in order for the industry to strengthen and be less vulnerable to economic shocks, it is necessary to diversify into ventures that would add value to the rubber supply chain.

“The government needs to encourage investors to set up factories here that can process the rubber into ready-made goods such as tires,” she said. …

Kang Sothear and George Styllis

Aus called out on railway

May 16th, 2014 , The Phnom Penh Post

Rights groups are calling out the Australian government for being “curiously absent” from discussions about further compensation for thousands of families affected by a railway rehabilitation project that it co-funded with the Asian Development Bank.

The bank has borne the brunt of criticism over botched resettlement since its internal watchdog slammed the bank in a January report for failing to ensure the Cambodian government-managed relocation met ADB safeguards.

Its board approved six key recommendations from the watchdog, which included the government setting up a compensation fund of $3 million to $4 million, likely financed by ADB loans. …

Kevin Ponniah

Longans longing for storage

May 16th, 2014 , The Phnom Penh Post

The amount of land used to grow longans has doubled in the past two years, but a lack of supply-chain infrastructure is hampering farmers’ ability to get top dollar for their product, the fruit’s body says.

Sreng Sreang, deputy director of the Pailin Longan Farmers’ Community (PLFC), said the fruit growers are in desperate need of storage facilities to hold large amounts of their stock in order to avoid being left with an oversupply at the end of the harvest season between January and March, which in turn brings prices down. …

Chan Muyhong

Striking Caltex Workers Call on US for Support

May 15th, 2014 , VOA Khmer

A small group representing striking Caltex gas station workers delivered a petition to the US Embassy on Thursday, asking for help as they seek an increase in monthly wages.

Hundreds of Caltex workers have been on strike since Monday, joining garment factory workers in calls for an increase of the minimum wage to $160 per month and for better working conditions. Caltex is a brand of the US-based multinational Chevron Corporation. …

Khoun Theara

17 families reject payout from minister’s wife

May 15th, 2014 , The Cambodia Daily

A special committee set up in March to settle a long-running land dispute between 52 families in Kompong Chhnang province and the wife of Mines and Energy Minister Suy Sem has finished its work, leaving 17 families without a deal.

Deputy provincial governor Dork Sothea, who chaired the committee, said the group wrapped up the negotiations last week, having reached pay-out deals for 35 families worth between $1,250 and $1,500 each, already paid by KDC International, the private development firm owned by Mr. Sem’s wife, Chea Kheng. …

Kuch Naren

As free man, Polonsky plans tourism mecca

May 15th, 2014 , The Cambodia Daily

Sergei Polonsky, a Russian fugitive and former billionaire real estate magnate who was recently released from prison in Cambodia, has grand plans for a string of islands off the coast of Sihanoukville.

Less than a month after the Supreme Court refused to extradite him to Russia on charges of embezzlement, Mr. Polonsky says he wants to boost the tourism industry by creating a tourism mecca off Cambodia’s southern coast. …

Mr. Polonsky, who is still facing charges of assault in Preah Sihanouk provincial court for allegedly threatening six Cambodian boatmen with a knife, says his investment plan—dubbed Archipelago—will help bring millions of tourists to his islands off Sihanoukville’s coast. …

“Cambodia has no extradition agreements except for the four neighbor countries, and now that we have a precedent in a form of the judgment of the Supreme Court, this will attract people for whom the costs of legal services in England are getting too steep,” he said, referring to the Supreme Court’s decision not to heed Russia’s request to extradite him. …

With Archipelago, Mr. Polonsky appears to be pursuing a promise he made during his initial extradition hearing in January, when he told the Court of Appeal that he would invest $1 billion in the country if he were allowed to stay. …

Ho Vandy, co-chair of the Government-Private Sector Working Group on Tourism, said Mr. Polonsky’s ambitious plans would likely require public sector support. …

Joshua Wilwohl

Caltex loosing hundreds of thousands of dollars, striking workers say

May 14th, 2014 , VOA Khmer

Chevron’s Caltex gas stations are potentially losing hundreds of thousands of dollars per day in Cambodia, striking employees say. …

Workers say Caltex, a subsidiary of US-based multinational Chevron, sells between 5,000 to 10,000 liters per station per day, putting its losses between $350,000 to $700,000 since the strike began three days ago.

Workers say they plan to bring a petition to the US Embassy on Thursday. …

Khoun Theara,

Strike by Cambodian Caltex staff enters 3rd day after wage talks fail

May 14th, 2014 , Xinhuanet News

Cambodian workers for the U.S.- owned Caltex petrol stations in Phnom Penh continued their strike for higher wages Wednesday after wage negotiations late Tuesday failed to reach any agreement.

Strike leader Sar Mora, president of the Cambodian Food and Service Workers Federation, said some 300 Caltex workers had continued their strike at 18 of the country’s 26 Caltex patrol stations Wednesday — the third day of the protest. …

Workers broke out the protest on Monday to demand the oil supplier to raise their monthly minimum wages to 160 U.S. dollars from the current 110 U.S. dollars. …

Caltex, a subsidiary of the U.S. oil giant Chevron, opened its first petrol station in Cambodia in 1996.

Xinhuanet News

Sexual abuse among claims against HAGL

May 14th, 2014 , The Phnom Penh Post

Sexual assault and the annihilation of sacred graveyards are among the many claims levelled at Vietnamese Rubber giant Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL) by villagers in Ratanakkiri province, a report by the World Bank’s investment arm reveals.

In February, 17 indigenous communities that accused HAGL of land grabbing filed a complaint with the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) – which invests in the rubber producer via an intermediary fund called Dragon Capital Group. The submission triggered an investigation by the IFC’s internal watchdog, the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO).

In an initial assessment dated May 12 and published on its website, the CAO documented villager claims against HAGL of depleted fish levels in waterways, encroachment and destruction of sacred land, deaths of hundreds of livestock, and, in one of the more shocking accusations, sexual abuse by company employees.

“The communities also shared with CAO that there were two instances of sexual assault by Company workers, resulting not only in individual duress, but also impacting how women in the village go about their daily activities to avoid potential harm,” the CAO report reads. …

HAGL has constantly been at the centre of controversy over its agricultural investments in Cambodia. Last year, UK-based NGO Global Witness published a report accusing the company of illegally logging outside concession areas and of being in possession of at least 47,000 hectares of economic land concessions – almost five times the legal limit.

Eang Vuthy, executive director of NGO Equitable Cambodia, which is working with affected families, said yesterday that having an open dialogue was an important step, but that there was still work to be done in achieving an appropriate resolution.

Daniel de Carteret

Standard forms aim for public bid transparency

May 14th, 2014 , The Phnom Penh Post

The Ministry of Economy and Finance on Monday announced the release of standardised bidding forms for public contracts, a measure it said would increase transparency and accountability, though the opposition and Transparency International Cambodia offered more cautious assessments yesterday.

According to a state media announcement, the documents would be used across all ministries for procurement and new construction projects, and “will promote a transparent, accountable, fair and equal process and best use of the money at all [of the] government’s institutions”. …

Though a step in the right direction, the ministry’s new forms are unlikely to serve as a cure-all for the Kingdom’s bidding woes, Transparency International Cambodia executive director Preap Kol said. …

“Procurement in a country like Cambodia plays a huge role in corruption,” he continued, noting that firms should be proven to be free of ties to officials granting the contracts. “Without [scrutiny] . . . and sanctions for companies that violate those rules, the companies won’t comply,” he said. …

Stuart White

After strong start, city bus’ future unclear

May 14th, 2014 , The Cambodia Daily

After a monthlong test run saw 10 buses often filled with passengers, a Chinese-owned company promised in early March to inject millions into the project and add hundreds of new buses.

But Global Trade Development left the project last month after the municipality refused to grant tax breaks for the company’s metered taxi business, officials said. And now City Hall is shouldering the responsibility for running the fledgling bus service as it looks for a suitable company to take it over.

City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said Tuesday that the municipal department of public works and transport has assumed control of the city’s buses and vowed there will be no interruption to the 36-stop service along Monivong Boulevard as it searches for prospective companies. …

But the fanfare that greeted the arrival of the bus was dampened soon after JICA handed the bus project over to Global Trade, which controversially secured the deal without bidding and on the basis of a verbal agreement.

It had promised to spend $12 million to add more than 300 new buses to a total of 10 citywide routes, but quickly pulled out because of what company CEO Lim Andre described as “technical problems.” …

Mr. Dimanche said City Hall stopped working with Global Trade after it became clear that the company was seeking a tax exemption that would allow it to import not just buses, but also duty-free cars for its metered taxi company. …

Ou Kimsan, deputy chief of the transport office at the municipal department of public works and transport, which currently runs the bus service, said that it also became clear that Global Trade would not live up to its commitments. …

Mr. Kimsan said that several companies have expressed interest in the bus service, but he would only confirm that South Korean company City Trans Cambodia had resubmitted its interest after having its initial bid of $5 million rejected by City Hall in favor of Global Trade. …

Hul Reaksmey and Simon Henderson