The Asian Development Bank (ADB) on Wednesday insisted that the Cambodian government has not turned down any of its recommendations for helping thousands of families hurt by a bank-funded project, claiming that talks over how to compensate and support the families were still underway.
Last week, the bank released a plan it had worked out with the government to help the roughly 4,000 families affected by its $143 million project to rehabilitate the country’s railway tracks, including 1,000 families forced to relocate and take on debilitating levels of debt to cover the move.
According to the plan, the government agreed to most of the bank’s recommendations, including upgrading the roads, clinics and other facilities at the relocation sites and paying the families additional compensation.
But the plan also says that the government “does not agree” to cover the families for the income they have lost out on since moving to relocation sites or to set up a program to help the families pay off their new debts.
On Wednesday, however, ADB spokesperson Karen Palmer denied that the government had “turned down” the recommendations.
“We simply have not yet reached agreement on how to implement all the actions to address the recommendations,” she said.
Despite the government not agreeing to help with the ADB’s recommended “debt workout scheme,” the plan adds that the ADB was free to come up with its own mechanism with the help of a microfinance institution, an NGO or someone else.
Ms. Palmer said the bank had not yet decided what to do about the debt and that the issue was “still being discussed.”
The affected families and the housing rights groups helping them have criticized the ADB for suggesting that the cost of giving the families the additional compensation they deserve, estimated to cost between $3 million and $4 million, should be covered with another loan from the ADB.
They say the ADB should cover the cost itself now that the bank has accepted responsibility for making families worse off. But Ms. Palmer ruled out that option Wednesday, saying that “rectifying instances of under compensation remain the government’s responsibility.”
Oun Song, an undersecretary of state at the Transportation Ministry responsible for the railway project, declined to comment.
Families have also rebuked the ADB for not consulting with them before releasing the action plan. Now out, it has gotten a mixed response.
Khoun Prum Sarith, who was sent to a relocation site on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, said he was reserving final judgment on the plan until the government decides how much additional compensation to pay him.
“The government did not agree to solve the problem for families who have debt,” he said. “So we have asked the ADB to find a solution for the families because they owe money to the microfinance institutions.”
Pun Nimul, who was resettled to the same site, said she was happy with the plan and would use whatever extra money comes her way to pay down her own debt.
“I am happy with the news about more compensation and I will use it to pay back my creditors,” she said. “I will use the rest of the money for a small business.”
peter@cambodiadaily.com, pheap@cambodiadaily.com
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