Where are the railways monitoring reports?

No new social monitoring reports on the railways rehabilitation project have been published since November 2012, raising concerns about the lack of external monitoring of the project as well as public access to information regarding the project. Redecam, the supposedly independent project monitor hired by the government, is meant to submit quarterly reports featuring details of the social impacts of the the ADB and AusAID-financed project. These are subsequently uploaded to the ADB website for public access. Yet the latest publicly available report, #19, covers the time period Aug-Nov 2012, and no reports have been public since. While the quality of Redecam’s reports has generally been poor, the lack of reports entirely underlines the ongoing lack of transparency and accountability that has plagued the railways project from the get-go.

ADB publishes information about the Expanded Income Restoration Program

The ADB has published 8 points of information about the much-delayed and largely opaque Expanded Income Restoration Program (EIRP) for households at railways relocation sites. The program, funded by the AusAID, is based on the principle of getting the relocated households to help themselves through joining savings groups. It is administered by the little known groups SBK and Envisioning, selected by the government, whose initial income restoration plans were deemed unsuccessful and prompted the Australians to grant an addition US$960,000 for income-restoration under the railways project. Households who join savings groups (joining is compulsory for accessing any benefits) get access to loans of US$450 from a Community Development Fund, and US$250 as a grant from the Social Safety Net Fund. Given that the ADB estimates the number of households at relocation sites being 1,105, this means that around US$773,500 of the funds granted by AusAID will likely go affected households, with the ADB, SBK, and Envisioning presumably pocketing the rest. Many relocated families have complained about the lack of jobs and other income-generating opportunities at the relocation sites, with many households particularly in Phnom Penh wondering how they are meant to save on a regular basis, when they are facing high debt levels as a result of inadequate compensation and lack of employment opportunities following relocation under the project. To read the 8 point published by the ADB, click here.

PP Post: ADB Petition Response Provokes Villagers

Khouth Sophak Chakrya and Cassandra Yeap, Apr. 19, 2012, Phnom Penh Post

The Asian Development Bank has responded to a petition filed by Phnom Penh evictees of the national railway rehabilitation project, a bank spokesperson said yesterday.

ADB operations coordinator Mao Ouk said the bank had raised the issues, which include infrastructure concerns and help with their livelihoods, with the Inter-ministerial Resettlement Committee and that the government was in the process of implementing an “expanded income restoration programme” that involved self-help groups and community credit schemes.

But villager representative Ros Bopha said that a letter received from the ADB on April 12 provided the “opposite” of what they were asking.

“They [ADB] told us to create a joint savings group to help ourselves,” she said. “Right now, we do not have enough money for food, so how can we save?”

Some 160 families were relocated from Russey Keo district to Por Senchey district’s Trapaing Anchang village on March 6.

STT publishes new report featuring stories of women at the Phnom Penh railways relocation site

Tarpaulin tent at the Trapeang Anchang relocation site in Phnom Penh's Por Senhcey district in September 2011

Facts and Figures #20, entitled Railways Relocation in Phnom Penh: Six Women Tell Their Stories, was published by local urban NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut on Apr. 2. Featuring the direct narratives of six elderly women, many of them widows, relocated from their homes along Phnom Penh’s railway tracks to Trapeang Anchang relocation site some 20-25km away, the publication begs the question of whether the ADB’s assurances that all sites are equipped with basic services and an income-restoration programme is provided ahead of relocation really holds true. You can access the publication here: FF20_Railways Relocation in PP.

PP Post: Rail project families at risk: NGO

A girl cycles past shacks at a Dangkor relocation site. (Pha Lina/Phnom Penh Post)

An NGO has criticised a controversial railway rehabilitation project – funded primarily by the Asian Development Bank and AusAID – in a report that states the US$143 million project has left families at risk of impoverishment by failing to adequately compensate and resettle them.

In the report obtained by the Post, Bridges Across Borders Cambodia says a perception among many families interviewed that they had been, or would be, worse off because of the project was “unsurprising”.

“The lack of meaningful consultat-ion, including the provision of genuine choices from the beginning, has meant the resettlement process has been fraught with problems for many households,” the report says.

More than 4,000 families living alongside the railway could be affec-ted by the project, and at least 1,200 families will have to relocate.

BABC executive director David Pred said that although there had been recent improvements, including a partial refund of electricity fees for resettled families in Phnom Penh and allocation of plots to people previously denied them, problems with the resettlement process remained.

“The most serious systemic problem of inadequate compensation and loss of income leading families into debt has not been addressed, and it poses the greatest risk of impoverishing affected people,” Pred said.

More than a third of the households interviewed felt they had been “intimidated or coerced, mainly by local authorities”, and NGOs monitoring the project had come under “significant pressure”, he said.

The report says the resettlement experience “was not uniform”. Fewer than 40 per cent of the more than 200 households interviewed between September, 2010 and October last year reported that living standards had improved or had not worsened, and development partners had made efforts to improve resettlement.

However, there was a “systematic downgrading” of compensation for affected families, the report says. It states that for some, the five resettlement sites were too far from their original homes and none were adequately equipped when families relocated, with access to water and electricity costs of particular concern.

“A considerable number of affected households have suffered harm and a deterioration of their living conditions due to non-compliance with the ADB Policy on Involuntary Resettlement,” the report says.

It urges the government to halt resettlement until international rights obligations and ADB policies are adhered to, review compensation and ensure basic services at resettlement sites.

Officials from the Ministry of Public Works and Transport were not available for comment yesterday. Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak could not be reached, while Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said that he was “not aware” of what was occurring with the resettlement.

Long Vanny, 53, who moved from Tuol Sangke village in Russei Keo district to Trapaing Anhchanh village in Dangkor district, is about US$1,000 in debt from building a house and opening a grocery shop.

“I hope this relocation and my business will help support my living better, although I owe money,” she said. She has received a larger plot of land with water, electricity and toilets and more than $900, but is far from schools and health centres.

The ADB said safeguard policies had not always been “uniformly implemented”. “All families affected by the resettlement process will be as well off, and in many cases much better off, than they were before.”

Relocated households would receive land titles after five years and electricity, water supply and basic facilities were being implemented, it said.

An Australian embassy spokesperson said improvements had been made at resettlement sites, compensation and grievances processes.

Phnom Penh relocation site: safeguards violations continue?

Despite many complaints from affected households and following the silencing of NGOs monitoring the resettlement impacts of the railways rehabilitation, many Phnom Penh households have been given until the end of the month, in the middle of the rainy season as well as religious festival Pchum Ben, to move from their homes along the railway tracks.

Like elsewhere in the country, the project’s relocation of the Phnom Penh families seems rife with problems and potential safeguards violations. The relocation site, Trapeang Anchangh, is for some of the families around 30km from their former homes. Many have received less than US$1,000 to relocate to the new site, which exemplifies complete lack of creative planning in the lay-out of the plots for the almost 200 households expected there. Don’t expect trees for shelter either – the site is next to another relocated community in the middle of rice fields, though relatively close to a posh golf course highlighting the growing difference between the rich and the poor in Cambodia.

While piped and drinkable water is communally available, those already resident at the site report they are required to pay around 150,000 riels for water connection to their new homes, and a similar amount for electricity connection. According to the ADB, relocated households should be exempt these costs, yet affected households around the country report similarly.

Around one quarter of the plots are currently occupied and/or show signs of ongoing building work. Some dwellings look as though they have been rebuilt by the occupants exactly the way they were in their old location, while other families have taken out loans to build stronger brick structures. Some families live in extremely basic tarpaulin tents, which they say flood each time it rains. The drainage does not appear to be working, and residents say they are having to spend a lot of money lifting the ground before building their new homes on it.

Most are worried about their income. Many are former city dwellers used to making their money from the hustle and bustle of the capital. Here, in the middle of rice fields, there is nothing. (Perhaps they might be able to get jobs at the gold course?) The Income Restoration Programme – also part of the ADB-approved resettlement plan – is nowhere to be seen.

Works at Samrong ‘station’

Following the silencing of NGOs monitoring the resettlement impacts of the ADB and AusAID-financed railways rehabilitation project, relocations in Phnom Penh have begun right in the middle of the rainy season.

Six out of twelve families living along the railway off street 120K have already accepted compensation and moved to the relocation site in Trapeang Anchangh. On Sep. 17, staff from TSO were seen working in the area – according to community members they were digging a ditch. No confirmed details are available as to why the 12 households in the area, whose houses do not fall within the railways 3.5m Corridor of Impact (CoI), are required to move. Officials have claimed they live in the old Samrong station which is now beyond derelict, yet there seem to be no plans to use the land for a new station. Many of the 12 households have received compensation as low as US$700. One household that refuses to move furthermore has receipts from systematic land titling in the area, yet has been decreed “landless” by the Inter-Ministerial Resettlement Committee (IRC).

Railway relocation deadline

Mom Kunthear, Phnom Penh Post, Sep. 12 2011

A deadline for relocation has been set for residents whose households will be affected by the controversial railway rehabilitation project in the capital’s Russei Keo district, with the government offering them money and land plots.

Sim Virak, a representative of the affected households, said yesterday the Ministry of Economy and Finance, the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, and the Ministry of Management, Urban Planning and Construction had ordered 28 families in Toul Sangke commune to be out of their houses by September 29.

“The ministries set the deadline for residents one month after they agreed to accept money and land on August 29,” Sim Virak said. He said that the families who agreed to relocate to an area set aside by the government in Trapaing Krasang commune of Sen Sok district would receive between US$600 and $900, in addition to land plots of about seven by 15 metres.

As of yesterday, 18 of the 28 affected families had agreed to these terms, with four families already making the move, Sim Virak said, adding that the remaining 10 families had yet to decide.

Long Vanny, 52, said she had already agreed to accept compensation of $682 and had relocated to the Trapaing Krasang commune, where she received a standard plot of land. “I moved my stuff and my children to the new place today. I was happy to accept [compensation and land] because I wanted to leave from that place [Russei Keo district]. It is very small for my big family,” she said.

“I don’t have enough money to build a new house yet, so I will use a tent. I will use this money [from the compensation] to make a small business selling vegetables at a market in Phnom Penh.”

Ouuch Leng, head of the land program for rights group Adhoc, said that he thought it was good that some villagers agreed to move without protesting. However, he said the government must not forget about the villagers once they move.

“We don’t want to see them abandoned like other villagers. They government has to give them suitable pay, as well as build good roads, a school and a hospital,” he said.

The railway rehabilitation project has been the subject of heated controversy due to disputes over compensation for families relocated to make way for it. The non-governmental organisation Sahmakum Teang Tnaut was suspended in early August, and two other NGOs received warnings from the government, over a letter they sent to the Asian Development Bank questioning resettlement policies. The ADB and AusAID are funding the project.

Officials at the Ministry of Public Works and Transport could not be reached for comment yesterday.