Land and Water Ministries Created Simultaneously
Maybe it is worth mentioning a bit about how the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction (MLMUPC) came to existence. You may remember that it came to existence at the same time with the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology. As a candidate designated by the Cambodian People’s Party Central Committee for the Prime Minister’s position, after being elected, from my residence in Takhmao (city of Kandal province) I launched the creation of the two Ministries.
I first decided to launch the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology (MWRM). In 1994, people of Put Sar commune of Takeo province came to my house to seek intervention to save their rice fields from drought. I took the time to visit the fields. I even spent the night there. I observed that we pursued inappropriate approach. We used to provide water pumps and irrigation facilities for farmers but because we shifted to free market economy in the post 1993 elections, all forms of state interventions were abandoned. It was a gross mistake that was imposed on farmers. With prompt intervention and restoration of main canals, perhaps from that time on that there was this saying “it is better to harvest rice in inundated rice field than to have no rice to harvest.”
At that time, the authority to deal with irrigation was Department of Hydrology under the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF). We then upgraded the department to General Directorate of Hydrology. However, being under the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, its mandate and ability to deal with irrigation and hydraulic works in general was constrained by financial hierarchy. I then prepared for the establishment of the Ministry of Water Resource and Meteorology with HE Lim Kean Hor designated as Minister.
As for the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction (MLMUPC), its establishment also arose from the fact that there had been various issues relating to land ownership and tenures, which would not be covered by the MAFF. The attention was THEN forwarded to the attention of the Council of Ministers. There was also this issue of construction, as far as I could recall, we had a General Directorate of Construction headed by HE Ti Yao. There was an attempt after the 1993 elections to group it with Public Works, which I disagreed. I then instructed HE Im Chhun Lim, then Secretary of State for Interior, to look into the establishment and operation of the MLMUPC.
Therefore there is no such thing as which of the two exist before the other but roughly same time and I am responsible for their establishments. In fact, the MWRM should have been established since the early 1980s, however, we could not afford to deal with lack of or inappropriate hydraulic infrastructural and irrigation facilities. It is thanks to the establishment of MWRM that we have increased coverage of irrigated rice fields from between 60 and 70 thousands hectares to over one million hectares now using both state and external source funding. I am sure you agree with me that this achievement would not have happened if it was left to be handled by a General Directorate under the MAFF.
It is indeed true that in each ministry there are various expertise involved. Take for instance in the MAFF, there need to have expertise in forestry, fisheries, hydrology, agronomy, animal husbandry, etc. It is also the case that when I am Prime Minister, my area of interest and attention has been to resolve all these issues for farmers. However, there is no guarantee that when someone else becomes Prime Minster, for better or for worse, s/he would do what Hun Sen did.
It is also a matter of concern that when one Minister is too concentrated on his/her area of expertise, leaving other related matters unattended. Sometimes it is the case that the Minister of Water Resources is putting every effort into his works regarding water but pay no attention at all to issues related like agronomy or animal husbandry. It is in this situation that as a leader I used to mention about being comprehensive and not focusing to only one area of attention. Everything should be prioritized.
Take for instance, the law on the establishment of the MLMUPC. It was clearly the case that we then made a law to fit with the overall development of the Ministry in function. I would say to trim of one’s feet to fit into shoes. It was written then that “all constructions must be approved by the Minister in charge of urbanization.” It was wrong that the process must be placed under one person’s decision while it should be the Ministry to approve it. With this written, the law would find itself inapplicable when the position of Senior Minister in Charge of Urbanization was no longer in place. What had happened could be considered the very mistake out of lack of experience and vision. We have already amended the situation and the writing already though.
Ministries and establishments set up after the liberation, one should recall, were mostly located in flat building in Phnom Penh. In those days, the late HE Taing Sarim, who then led the Phnom Penh Military Committee, did not set up office in the current Municipal of Phnom Penh. He chose to stay at the current Council of Ministers, where Ieng Sary (Khmer Rouge Foreign Minister) worked. Samdech Chea Sim, who then led the Ministry of Interior, chose to set up the Ministry of Interior at the current location of Ministry of Education because it was close to his house.
I had the privilege of taking control of the river front area while the old “Building” part was controlled by Keo Chenda’s cultural arts and performance department. I noticed then the Buddhist Schools and I administered the two compounds across the street to train diplomatic staff and officials. After the formation was over, people were still afraid having to pick out a house to stay on their own. Out of fear of being in quiet parts of the ghost city of Phnom Penh, it was general case that more than one family decided to share a house. As new situation arrives, we have to return the School of Buddhism to the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Cult, and build a new office building and compound where HE Hor Nam Hong is working nowadays.
After the liberation we set up various committees – the (People’s) Committee for Agriculture led by Noa Samom, the Committee for Education led by Chan Ven, the Committee for Health led by Nu Beng, the Committee for Economy and Living Condition led by Mok Sokun, the Committee for Trade led by Taing Sarim, the Committee for Industry led by Meas Samnang and the Committee for Telecommunication led by HE Khun Tchi. These committees later called themselves Ministries. We also had the Committee for Finance and Banking, led by Ja Rieng. Later on there was also this Committee of Social Affairs led by Sam Bun.
What were we going to do to cater to demand for working spaces? In some cases, as the buildings were already in degraded condition plus some thirty years in service after the liberation, it is indeed calling for consideration. Every ministry is in need for alteration or construction of working space. The Ministry of Information collapsed. If we were to place our money all in building the needed institutions, how would we go about paying for roads, bridges, canals, schools and hospitals? The situation led us to swapping horses or to exchange the old office buildings for new ones. Through these exchanges, the state asset value did not lose anyway. As in the case of Ministry of Trade, the new office location now is increasing its value.
I would urge the Ministry of Economy and Finance to conduct a comparative study on exchange of assets between private and public sector. If it would not incur loss of value, but allow the state’s institutions to have better spaces and buildings, or if we are sure that a horse would be traded for a horse that could be stronger, let’s strike the deal. There is nothing odd about that. It is a common practice found in Malaysia and China, perhaps in various other countries too. In Malaysia, they will build a new city and we also have to find money to build a new embassy there too. In China’s Guizhou, where HE Hu Jintao, President of the People’s Republic of China used to serve as Party Secretary, they decided to build a completely new city. I wondered how they could find money to do that. They said they sold old buildings in old city and build a new one elsewhere.
As far as this place is concerned, in fact it was one of the properties that were under my control and responsibility. I was Minister of Foreign Affairs. The houses on this land were administered by the Department of Diplomatic Corp’s Assistance. It was then residence and offices of the Embassy of Hungary. HE Ung Huot, then first Prime Minister, chose this place to be his residence. I apologize to HE Ung Huot for what I have to say now about setting up a residence for incumbent Prime Minister. I have been Prime Minister for a period that is longer than his. I also thought of establishing official residences for the Prime Minister, Head of State and President of the National Assembly, too.
However, our ability could not allow us to. HE Ung Huot requested to take this place and set up his residence. I said to him to think hard on it. His tenure of Prime Minister was only more than ten months, then why should they make intensive investment in building residence for the first Prime Minister? Worse still, at the time we also had not paid salary for civil servants, armed forces at the start of Asian financial crisis as well as in a condition that we just came out of armed clashes on July 5-6 in Phnom Penh.
We had to purchase the French Peugeot and Japanese motorcycles for bodyguards for the first Prime Minister. There was also a swimming pool too. I wonder, I apologize to HE Ung Huot, if that was not a partial cause of his electoral loss in 1998. There was this sentence written by Benny Widyono (author of Dancing in Shadows) that the votes won by HE Ung Huot were less than the number of his photos. I thought that we should have at the time tried to stay united and paid more attention for the living condition of the people.
This is what you should know about the story of the place where the new office building of the MLMUPC is on. This has brought me to a suggestion that in case of change of Minister, maybe it is not worthwhile to start changing chairs and tables right away. I noted in 1993 that after the elections and formation of the Royal Government, wives of various ministers visited their husbands’ offices and ordered for new furniture, curtain, while moving their desks around according to Feng Shui geomancy.
As we also will have the office building for the Ministry of Environment to be completed soon, I wish to have your attention that it is important that we all seek for work efficiency. Well, you know that the Ministry of Environment was formerly the house of HE Ros Samay. It was first of all offered for the commencement of the Ministry of State Affairs Inspection led by Minister HE Sim Ka. The Ministry was later led by Kung Kuam, who is currently Vice President of Sam Rainsy Party. He was one of the CPP’s officials but he is now making the worst insult too. I am calling him to be considerate because after all I never detest him in any way.
He had a house at the Samdech Paan Road in Phnom Penh. Upon returning from his ambassadorial post in Hanoi, he took in another house, where the Sam Rainsy Party Headquarter is now, without asking for Minister’s approval. He then claims that he is not a greedy person. If what he said is true, he may choose to return the house. He obtained a house like others in those days, how could he pass the blame on others and not on himself? I just wanted to make this known to many who may not have the background story.
For the sake effective process of negotiation (for political settlement of the Cambodian problem), there was a need to see through the reorganization of a team in I had to back the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs along with HE Tia Banh, then Minister of Public Works and Transports, taking the post of defense. It was in this situation that Kong Kuam was transferred from then Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the Ministry of State Affairs Inspection. He was also member of the CPP Central Committee and resigned in 1992.
As far as office buildings are concerned, during the visit in 2004 to my working office, Vice Premier Wu Yi of the People’s Republic of China exclaimed about condition of my then office. Seeing that the Chinese friends offered to help us build the Friendship Building of the Council of Ministers. I told her that I wanted to save money to help our people and to seek for work efficiency. Premier Wen Jiabao came and launched the construction for the Friendship building of the Council of Ministers and also the Komjai Hydropower Plant. Now that we have good office buildings, we must place high priority on efficiency.
I also have the need to place a warning on two issues that I do not wish to see them happening again. One is the office of the Agence Khmer de Press (AKP) building of the Ministry of Information. It was proposed to me twice by Minister of Information – HE Khieu Kanharith. It was not his intention and therefore it was false. The building seems to be wanted by many companies. I instructed to HE Kheiu Kanharith that he no longer submit such request to me or he may have to resign. To those who are interested in having the building (of AKP), HE Khieu Kanharith can show the instruction and tell them even if you do not resign, he (the Prime Minister) would remove you anyway.
I also have a message for HE Him Chhem of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts. It was about the request to swap the National Library. It is unbelievable. The latest request seemed to have sought for leasing some 3,000 square meters of the National Library compound. I said no. I am warning against any extremes. The Ministry of Economy and Finance, the National Bank, the Ministry of National Defense and the Office of the Commander in Chief – though some of them are not in full use – they are to be conserved as historical places. We allowed for swapping the buildings only when the Ministries dwell in buildings that were not official buildings before.
As far as this development is concerned, I mentioned once that before June 20, 1977, I was a piece of algae in a huge lake that was swept in any direction with the current and by wind. After the June 20, 1977, I became a lake with lots of algae and fishes in it. I therefore am familiar of major, if not all issues, relating to my life.
I wish to talk a bit about this need to complement the roles between public and private sectors as partners for growth. The private sector is engine of national growth. In it, social and economic land concessions are major issues. I have a feedback, true or not I could not verify yet, that as far as the incident at Snuol is concerned, after resolving the incidental conflict, there has been a report that some twenty houses or so were built overnight (in conflicted area). If they go on doing that there would be more problems. Eventually, any development thereof would be hard to hold the company responsible. People should be warned that such act is an abuse on the company and therefore the state land.
Once again, I would appeal to all to refrain from applying the trick of those in opposition that “they may get land if they win, they may get money if they lose.” Some criticized the Royal Government of being late to order an arrest, while in fact, the Minister of Interior did his duty since day one. However, because we were in the Senate electoral campaign, I could not make public announcement. There was a written authorization indeed. Maybe those in the civil society should give a second thought on what they had to say. They may know well their interest but this issue required study of all relevant and comprehensive factors. Our ministers have those abilities.
On 17 February 2012, there will be a meeting between the non-governmental organizations involved in the flood disaster assistance and the Royal Government at the Peace Building of the Council of Ministers. It is like a cabinet meeting. There will be a VDO link to all related institutions and provinces. We need to invite foreign embassies related to share their views. These NGOs are the ones that really worked to ensure the basic human rights –the rights to life and food. There will be a discussion as to why there are more deaths in Cambodia from the flood disaster than in our neighboring countries.
It is also my wish to meet with those NGOs as well. I would like the NGOs who will be participating in the flood disaster situation to talk freely and fearlessly about their hardships and operations to provide assistance. They may also present facts about their cooperation with the armed forces and the local authorities at all levels.
I am so impressed by the figure of growth provided in relation to construction. As is said by HE Im Chhun Lim, Minister for LMUPC, in 2011, there are 2,129 approved construction projects at the current market price investment cost of 1,734 million USD. In 2010, we had 2,149 projects with the total cost of 840 million USD. This has shown a growth of 106%. I strongly believe that in 2012 there is going to be more constructions – either in factory, hotel or housing.
As far as the house construction is concerned, soon after we have this law that permits foreign citizen to co-own the building, there have been 281 foreign nationals who purchased 670 units. You may agree that this means money comes into Cambodia from foreign destinations. One factor that no one can deny is that they believe Cambodia is in peace and stability. Cambodia is no longer an isolated country.
Taking this opportune moment I would like to instruct staff to proceed accordingly and without prolongation to approve the construction requests. Approval to request for construction permission must be processed immediately. There used to be ideas that here and there the construction of a new building should not reach any height taller than the Royal Palace, the Council of Ministers, etc. I then made it my policy that anyone to build a skyscraper in Phnom Penh would be presented with medals. As long as they are not in flight routes, we have no concern about any height they may go.
The same is true for filling lakes. In the past there had been lake fillings in various places in Phnom Penh – Boeng Prolit, Poeng Tumpun, etc. but why it is not possible for us now to fill any lakes at all. When we do not do anything they will say we are no good because we could not do anything. We have to exercise conservation in buildings like the National Library, the Ministry of Economy and Finance, the Ministry of National Defense, the Custom House, etc. But in some places, such buildings already collapsed. To conserve those buildings would take a lot of resources and where can we find them?
We have aimed to achieve 2,700,000 tourists to visit Cambodia last year. Now we have come to a figure of 2,880,000 tourists or close to three millions. It should be noted as well that many Cambodians, around 60 or 70,000 people are making tours to foreign destinations./.