Report on rail project draws ire

blogspot.com 27-Mar-2012

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An employee of Toll royal rides on a train near Phnom Penh Railway Station. Photo by Sovan Philong

Monday, 26 March 2012
The Phnom Penh Post

Rights groups yesterday blasted the Asian Development Bank for approving a report they say miscalculates the amount of money needed by families forced to relocate as a result of the rehabilitation of Cambodia’s national railway.

 
The criticisms were the latest of several issues to weigh on the rail project in recent weeks.

 
Thousands of families are in the process of moving from their homes to new settlements created by the Cambodian government as the country rebuilds its long-dilapidated railway system.

 
Rights groups, however, have said the resettlement project, administered by the Cambodian government but mainly funded by the ADB, provides payments to those families for lost land, houses and crops at six-year-old market rates without accounting for significant increases in inflation.

 
“The compensation was calculated in 2006, but most people moved in 2011,” Eang Vuthy, Development Watch program manager at Bridges Across Borders Cambodia, said yesterday when reached by phone.


 
“People should receive more compensation. We have informed the ADB many times that the compensation rate is very low.”

 
The 13th quarterly “Social Monitoring Report”, conducted by REDECAM Group between January and April last year, was part of a regular update to the ADB about the resettlement process.

 
But the report’s Friday release was almost a year behind schedule, rights groups said.
 
 
The resettlement is part of a US$143 million rehabilitation of the national railway that has drawn controversy for insufficient compensation and sub-standard living conditions at new settlement camps.

 
In a joint statement, BABC, the Housing Rights Task Force and Sahmakum Teang Tnaut noted statements in the Cambodian press last week by an ADB official who claimed construction prices had increased 30 per cent since 2009, lifting the cost of the railway rehabilitation project.

 
But at the same time, that recognition of rising prices was not being applied to the relocated families, the rights groups said.

 
“ADB cannot claim on the one hand that there has been a significant rise in the construction costs for the railway development, but no inflation for the cost of housing materials and daily subsistence in Cambodia,” Sia Phearum, secretariat director of the Housing Rights Task Force, said.

 
A June, 2010 report released by ADB showed payments had increased for family homes in the Phnom Penh section of the rail between the original 2006 projections and 2009.

 
But the report released last Friday showed there had been no increase for family homes along the southern rail line to Sihanoukville or the northern line to Poipet.

 
Insiders said yesterday the ADB had never explicitly stated that increases had been approved for the southern and northern lines, even after releasing the updated resettlement plan for Phnom Penh in 2010.

 
As a result, rights groups have questioned how it could recognise the need for elevated compensation for one phase of the project without applying those increases across the board.

 
ADB officials were not immediately available for comment yesterday.
 
 
A spokesperson reached by email on Friday said REDECAM Group, the external monitoring oganisation for the resettlement that compiled the reports for ADB, “has studied compensation rates, which indicates that the rates were fully cost-covering and based on market rates – inclusive of cost of labour – at the time of actual compensation and resettlement”.

 
The spokesperson also explained the reason for the 13th Social Monitoring Report’s delayed release, saying REDECAM Group had originally submitted an incomplete data set and the ABD had requested an update.

 
“The 14th [external monitoring organisation report] will be uploaded on the ADB website as soon as it is received,” the spokesperson said of the still-missing report.

 
Last Tuesday, the ADB announced that Australian logistics firm Toll Group and Cambodia’s Royal Group, whose joint venture, Toll Royal Railways, holds a 30-year operational lease for the rail, “have decided to suspend all train operations in Cambodia for one year beginning in April”.

 
“ADB is concerned that if trains used for rehabilitation works are no longer available, the suspension could contribute to further construction delays,” the ADB said in its statement.

 
The bank last week also released a report by supervising contractor Nippon Koei highlighting myriad health and safety violations at the work sites of TSO, the company in charge of rehabilitation work on the railway.
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To contact the reporter on this story: Tom Brennan at tom.brennan@phnompenhpost.com