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of Mines and Energy (MME), said Cambodia’s 30 per cent tax on mineral resources, mining, and oil and gas operations was outdated.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

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

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

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

CPP-friendly businessman launches newspaper

May 13th, 2014 , The Cambodia Daily

T Mohan, a Malaysian publisher and businessman arrested in the 1990s for attempting to extort a casino executive, is back in Cambodia’s newspaper market.

The Khmer Times, the latest English-language news offering from Mr. Mohan, hit newsstands earlier this month, with a government spokesman even resigning his position to report for the newspaper. …

According to sub-decrees issued in the Royal Gazette in February 2011, Mr. Mohan currently chairs a company with a 7,187 hectare economic land concession in Kampot province’s Phnom Bokor National Park. …

Alex Willemyns

Court temporarily halts lease transfer for victory beach

May 13th, 2014 , The Cambodia Daily

Russian businessmen Nikolai Doroshenko and Sergei Polonsky are locked in a legal dispute over Sihanoukville’s Victory Beach following Mr. Polonsky’s release from prison last month, according to copies of court documents obtained Monday.

The Preah Sihanouk provincial court has temporarily prevented Mr. Doroshenko from transferring the right of a 99-year lease his company holds for the 3,536 square meter beach area to a Taiwanese company because he allegedly violated the terms of a previous contract for the land with Mr. Polonsky, a former Russian real estate mogul.

In a copy of the court’s ruling, it “provisionally forbid[s] Doroshenko Nikolai from selling, exchanging, leasing, mortgaging, transferring of right, hypothecating, gifting, making a will, bequeathing or donating the Victory Beach…including the building, port and a motorboat until the court completely rules on the merit of the case.”

The court’s ruling, dated April 30 and signed by Kim Eng, deputy director of the provincial court, followed an April 18 motion filed on behalf of Mr. Polonsky.

Victory Beach, located near the Sihanoukville Autonomous Port in Bei commune, was awarded as a 99-year lease to Sea Snake Investment Group Co. Ltd., which is owned by Mr. Doroshenko. …

He is wanted in Russia over charges of embezzling more than $180 million from investors in residential real estate projects in Moscow. Last month, a Cambodian court for the second time denied an extradition request from Russia.

In Cambodia, he faces charges for his alleged role in assaulting six Cambodian boatmen off the coast of Sihanoukville in December 2012. Preah Sihanouk court officials have previously said that Mr. Polonsky’s trial has been indefinitely delayed, and on Monday declined to comment.

Joshua Wilwohl

Illegal wood exports to China tripled in 2013

May 13th, 2014 , The Cambodia Daily

Cambodia’s exports of protected rosewood and other high-value timber to China more than tripled last year, according to U.N. figures cited in a new report that blames lax law enforcement across the Mekong region and skyrocketing demand in China for pushing some species to the brink of extinction.

The trade can be deadly. At least 33 Cambodians were shot dead by Thai security forces while searching for the lucrative lumber across the border last year alone, according to rights group Adhoc. The illicit cross-border trade cost 45 Cambodians their lives the year before.

In a report released Monday, “Routes of Extinction: The corruption and violence destroying Siamese rosewood in the Mekong,” the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) blames the illicit trade mostly on China’s love for Hongmu, its word for a type of high-end furniture and the species of wood used to make it. …

Of the 3.5 million cubic meters of Hongmu timber China imported between 2000 and 2013, nearly half came from Cambodia and the rest of the Mekong region, according to the EIA’s analysis of U.N. trade data.

According to the data, Cambodia’s exports of rosewood and other Hongmu species more than tripled between 2012 and 2013 from 6,800 cubic meters to 20,700 cubic meters, the highest figure on record for the country since 2000. …

Cambodia’s 2002 Forestry Law strictly prohibits the logging of rare tree species, including rosewood. In 2013, Prime Minister Hun Sen issued a directive outlawing not just the logging of rosewood, but its transport and sale as well. He also urged countries still importing the wood to act to stem demand.

That same year, Cambodia joined 176 other countries party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to give Siamese rosewood Appendix II protection. That means all international trade of the species must now be accompanied by a specific export license. …

The CITES website lists Cambodia’s “management authority” for the convention as Ty Sokhun, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Mr. Sokhun declined to speak. His assistant referred questions on rosewood exports to Forestry Administration chief Chheng Kim Sun, who also declined to speak. …

EIA cites a $3.4 million deal Cambodian timber tycoon Try Pheap inked with the government for 5,000 cubic meters of illegally logged wood seized by authorities last year. In the country’s northeast, it is an open secret among loggers and rights groups that Mr. Pheap’s loaded trucks make constant trips into nearby Vietnam. …

Zsombor Peter

Cambodian rights worker faces death threats over land dispute

May 12th, 2014 , Radio Free Asia

A worker with the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) has been intimidated and received death threats while trying to document the plight of three families involved in a bitter land dispute with a developer in the country’s capital, according to the center.

The worker, Vann Sophath, was shooting a video at the dispute site in Phnom Penh’s Sangkat Boueng Kak 1 on May 9 when he was confronted by around six civilians known to work as security guards for the developer, Khun Sear Import Export Company, CCHR said in a statement. …

Vann Sophath and his team first visited Sangkat Boueng Kak 1 on April 25 to begin shooting interviews with the family of Ly Sreakheng—one of the three households involved in the dispute with the Khun Sear Import Export Company, which has offices on property adjacent to their homes and has been seeking to extend its property to include the residents’ land. …

On Oct. 4, 2010, Cambodia’s Council of Ministers granted the land to Khun Sear and, in order to facilitate the transfer, the Phnom Penh municipal government in 2013 issued a certificate stating that the site belongs to the state. …

In October last year, ahead of a protest march on City Hall by dozens of residents involved in land disputes in the capital, the three families found three poisonous cobra snakes had been placed near their homes.

Days earlier, after company employees had threatened the families about killing their pets, two of their cats and one of their dogs were poisoned to death and left on the doorstep, unidentified persons sprayed insecticide on one of the houses, and others harassed customers at one of the families’ businesses, according to a statement by rights groups. …

Land disputes are a bitter problem for Cambodia, where rural villagers and urban dwellers alike have been mired in conflicts that the U.N.’s special rapporteur for human rights to Cambodia has warned could threaten the country’s stability. …

Radio Free Asia Staff

Government says 3.4 million land titles issued

May 12th, 2014 , The Cambodia Daily

The government has issued a total of 3.4 million land titles across the country, 500,000 of them since a renewed push personally orchestrated by Prime Minister Hun Sen, according to new figures released by the Land Management Ministry.

In a notice posted to its website Friday, the ministry says the last 500,000 were issued since mid-2012, when Mr. Hun Sen issued Order 001, an ambitious plan originally intended to provide titles to 350,000 households living precariously on state land. …

But its release on Friday came just one day after a lengthy report from local rights group Adhoc claimed a near doubling of the number of land disputes it recorded last year, despite the titling push.

The Adhoc report said many poor Cambodians with legitimate land claims were continuing to lose out to powerful interests and that Mr. Hun Sen’s titling program, having been implemented outside the usual government channels, is void of any independent oversight or functional complaint mechanisms. …

According to Adhoc, the government approved 485 of the social concessions for land-poor Cambodians last year. But it added that the vast majority of them were approved before July’s national elections—as a possible ploy for votes, it suggests—and that it remained to be seen how many of the concessions would be used as intended. …

Aun Pheap