Koh Kong – Last Land Titles Handing Out

My wife and I have come to Koh Kong as our last destination of the mission for the handing out of land titles, after it commenced on September 21, 2012 in Kratie. We started in Kratie and finished it up in Koh Kong province. We have done it in 20 provinces out 24, where four others – Phnom Penh, Kandal, Prey Veng and Pailin do not go through this process. As a matter of fact I preside over the handing out of land title ceremony only once for each of the twenty provinces. Every ceremony conducting thereafter will be held in the presence of my delegated representative.

Take for instance, after my first ceremony to hand out the land titles today for 513 families in the district of Thmar Bang, I have called on Lok Chumteav Men Sam An to come handing out land titles on my behalf for other places in the province. I am asking Lok Chumteav Khuon Sodary, Deputy President of the National Assembly, to do the same in Preah Sihanouk province, HE Bin Chhin in Stoeng Treng province and many others I have already assigned the task to go presenting land titles to people elsewhere.

In fact I was in Koh Kong over a month ago, on 17 December 2012, to inaugurate the Nieng Kok Special Economic Zone and the factories of Yazaki Corporation. According to record I have come to Koh Kong province almost every year as I launched the construction of four hydropower plants here and on the forthcoming 28 February, 2013, I will come again to put into official operation the Kirirom II hydropower dam.

National Road 48 to Be Enlarged

As is reported by HE Bun Loet, Governor of Koh Kong province, I am so happy to see the progress made in relation to Koh Kong development. Koh Kong is no longer an isolated part of the  the country’s mainland. (Though it sits on mainland) there was no road that people could travel through to and fro. Previour trips were partly traveled by sea from Sre Ambel district or from Preah Sihanouk province. My intention to address this hardship for people in Koh Kong was realized in 2008, when we put into operation officially the National Road 48 and four major bridges linking up Koh Kong and the central part of the country.

Before we could secure funding from Thailand to build this NR 48, Oknha Lyong Phat had also traced and maintained the road. People travelling to and from Koh Kong by boat had to stay overnight somewhere because of rain and wind. Those who travelled on road also had to stay some nights too as their vehicles could not move for mud or they had to wait for the ferry, for instance. That is why on May 14, 2008, the day when we celebrate the birthday anniversary of HM the King, I came to Koh Kong to put into official use of the NR 48 and there was a lady embracing me crying because it reminded her of the former time that she had to sleep in the forest while traveling to and fro Koh Kong.

Koh Kong is no longer a far-away place anymore. We also are looking for funding to expand the road into the highway or at least fortify it as a sea corridor that links Koh Kong to the NR 4 and on to Kompot on NR 3 to Prey Jak and on to Vietnam. We also have this bridge built by Oknha Lyong Phat crossing over the channel of Pao and linking Cambodia to the border with Thailand, which will certainly contribute to the development of transportation.

Hydropower, Eco-toruism and Economic Land Concession in Koh Kong

The potentiality in Koh Kong for development is huge. It has four hydropower plants that provide energy to several provinces (1) the 338 MW hydropower plant of Ruusei Jrum Kraom in Bak Khlongh, Mondulseima district, (2) the 246 MW hydropower plant in Thmar Bang district, (3) the 108 MW Jeay Areng River hydropower plant, also in the district of Thmar Bang, and (4) the hydropower plant of Kirirom. The amount of energy produced is not only for the people in Koh Kong but for the inner Cambodian provinces too.

Koh Kong is also well known for its eco-tourism, agriculture and sea fisheries. As far as eco-tourim is concerned I urge that efforts must be made at all cost to properly maintain Ji Phat. Here we have titanium underneath and it costs billions of USD. However, to extract titanium, it is obliged to remove the upper level of the earth on an area of about 20,000 hectares. At this size, the removal of upper level of the land would leave no space for the elephants to cross in the area. For another reason, dirt washed off into the sea transforming the blue sea water into rust-color water. It is in this respect that I order that Ji Phat area must be protected and conserved.

Theoritically, eco-tourism like in Kirirom or Bok Ko or Ji Phat and in various other places, not only forest is not allowed to be cut but need to be preserved.If we allow investment in tourism in the area, instead of cutting forest, those people involved have to preserve and/or grow more trees too. If it becomes a deserted field, it would not be eco-tourism anymore. It is totally different from land concession for economic purpose. For this type of concession, investors would need to replace the existing bushes or trees with whatever crops they deem best grow in the area and for the market demand.

For the Protection of Environment

I also appeal local people who operate wirewood cutting and charcoal making business in the area that we (the Royal Government also) do not allow what they call “household-size charcoal making.” There is not such thing as “household” because I do not believe a family would go out to make charcoal only for their own consumption. It is also a cause of forest destruction too as in order to make charcoal, one has to fell down trees to fill in their charcoal making oven. It is diastrous too.

The other day, I talked to those investors in tile and brick business. I do not encourage to go on with it as I see that buying from other countries would be better. Some economists disagree with my theory and blame the business pattern of importing various things from other countries. I would urge them to make an economic calculation. In order to achieve an oven full of tiles or bircks, one has to burn so much firewood. Countries nearby they use coal or other energy sources to heat up the tiles or bricks, which allowed them to export their products at cheaper prices. For me, for some products that importation would save us from destroying what we have, like environment, we should consider doing it.

A Unified Country at Last

As we now have peace that enables in infrastructural developments, we should not let it slip off our hands. Take for instance, these areas along the mountains of Kravanh and Aoral, previous administrations – including those of the French, the Japanese and then the French again – had so much difficulties to impose their administrative control upon. This area was also former Khmer Rouge commanding headquarters where former Khmer Rouge leaders like Khieu Samphan, Nuon Chea hid themselves. If you read the personal history of Khieu Samphan, you will learn that he fled to the forest that links Kompong Speu, Pursath and Koh Kong altogether.

That is why I always remind everyone that in the Cambodian history, it was rare that Cambodia was one united country under one rule, one King, one Constitution, Royal Government and army. It has been one of the most difficult tasks to formulate and put into realistic practice of the win-win policy. Though we now have more than one political parties, we have only one King, Constitution, National Assembly, Royal Government, army and one united country.

In the past, the country was divided into more than one part under different rules. In between 1970 and 1975, the country was divided into two parts; between 1975 and 1979, the country was under the genocide; from 1979 through to 1993, Cambodia went through four different rules. Again after the elections, in between 1993 and 1998, Cambodia was under two ruling factions and even two governments as we have proof that Khieu Samphan printed money for use in the city of Anlong Veng.

From 1998 through to the present day, it is fifteen years now Cambodia is a fully united country under one rule, though we still have various political parties. Hopefully they do not fight each other. We all have to make efforts to maintain peace that we have achieved as it brings about ongoing development, those of Koh Kong province also included.

Thanks to Those Involved

I would like to express my sincere thanks to the sub-national level authorities as well as the armed forces who support and take part in the mission while taking good care of the cadastre officials as well as nieces and nephiews in the different groups youth-student volunteers. I am so grateful that Excellecies and Lok Chumteav have visited and brought with you basic foodstuff for them. The case of Koh Kong is also similar to other provinces. The only difference we noted here is that the youth-student volunteers and cadastre officials have had to combine walking with boating in their movement from place to place.

Facing with these hardships, without the support rendered by local and sub-national level authorities and people’s active participation, the mission would not be so successful. Before the mission arrived, our people did not have sufficient information, for instance in Kompot province. There is this campaign to fool our people that the land measuring and titling mission is for the Royal Government to later impose tax on land. But in the end those spreading false news have also collected the titles too.

No Tax on Farmland Clarified and Reemphasized

I have affirmed many times that as long as the Cambodian People’s Party is there, with or without Hun Sen, tax on farmland from farmers will not be imposed. Not only will the tax on farmland not be imposed but the agricultural infrastructures must be developed and market be found, while efforts are made to provide them with access to microfinance. However, this year, there is a surplus of rice in every country – Vietnam, Thailand, India, Pakistan, etc. So those countries do not import more rice from Cambodia. Competition in rice export has led us to price depreciation.

As I said on various occasions already someone likes to exploit the situation in every way. Talking to people who buys rice, pretending to share the concerns of people who buy rice, these men blame the Royal Government for a deadly high price, saying at such a high price people who buys would die of hunger. Talking to the farmers, seemingly sharing their concerns with the producers, they resort to blaming the Royal Government for the the price of rice that is deadly low and said at this price how farmers could repay their costs of production. So while in market they make friends with rice sellers, in the farms they make friends with rice cultivators.

However, the Royal Government’s difficulty is that when the price of rice is going too high, about 20% to 30% of our population who are non-rice producers would complain. And when the price of rice goes down, the people in the 30% group would be happy but the 70% who cultivate rice would not be so. This is a matter that we have to have mutual understanding. We understand that our rice farmers have the need to exchange rice into cash so that they can pay for costs of production like fertilizer, as the Royal Government does not have the ability to provide them with subsidy yet, and also purchase basic needs for the families too.

As far as subsidy is concerned it seems that Thailand has got a problem for exporting its shrimps to markets in the US. Later on Thailand faces the problem on rice too. It could be the case because subsidy is not in line with the market economy principle and the issue is a major subject for discussion in Doha, which calls for no protectionism in trade relations. However, listening to comments from some Presidents in Latin America, they seem to have said that not all protections are bad.

In the World Trade Organization process though, protectionsim has been demanded to be ticked off the list. Take for instance, import of shrimps from Thailand to the US market has met with a barrier. That is the case between Thailand and the US. As for us, it is unfeasible yet to gather big capital for building warehouses, where quality of rice will need to be preserved.

As far as tax on farmland is concerned, while they slander it for taxing the people’s farmland, we may just ask people if ever they have been told to pay tax on their farmland in the past 33 or 34 years. Without tax on farmland we did not die. However, some politicians tell people around they would increase salary and so on, so they would have to tax farmland in order to pay for what they have said they would do. As for the present Royal Government, before we decide to spend for something, we have to make sure from where we take the money and we have to make sure that the outgoing amount is similar to the incoming amount or we would risk facing with many serious cases, printing money is one of them too.

Printing money is not that difficult as the National Bank could do and circulate in the market immediatley but one has to ponder about inflation and depreciation of the currency value. As of now our money value has gone up. It is because we have put into the market hundreds of millions of USD.

Complementary Role between Junior and Senior Cadastre Officials

Today all of the youth-student volunteers – former and new groups are here together. I also want to stay here and have lunch with them too. It is very difficult as a leader. Before I eat anything, my food has to be made from ingredients that are already tested for poison. Yesterday my wife and I are home alone as my children and their families all went away. We had Ban Chev (yellow pancake with meat and bean sprout inside) for lunch and also for dinner. I have a feeling for smoked fish with mango salad. I have my stomach fulled. There was nothing wrong. If I have to have lunch here, the food must be tested.

I would like to speak to the youth-student volunteers and the cadastre officials that they have made praiseworthy efforts in this land measuring and titling mission. Let me clarify that the cadastre officials are the ones to make decision, like signing so and so paper involved. The youth-student volunteers  are their assistants and not the ones to resolve the problem.

On this note I also welcome those former youth-student volunteers who have passed the recruitment exams at the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction. From Koh Kong team, I learnt that fifteen of you have passed the exams. And now we have 34 new trainee officials coming to work in Koh Kong. There is one young daughter from the former team in Ratanakiri and who has passed her exam is now coming to work here in Koh Kong. Also, a young man from the former team of Koh Kong is now a young trainee official to work in Kratie.

Between the youth-student volunteers, the young trainee cadastre officials and senior cadastre official, there is a complementary role for them to play. Senior officials may have problem reading English instruction on GPS while I am sure the trainee officials can do to help. However, the senior officials have more experience and the two would need each other to make the job easier and successful. I just want to add on to what I have said already about safety and security. Whenever you have to travel by boat or get into water, you have to have your life jacket on or you must stay on soil.

The job that you have fulfilled is so huge as from this achievement we can preovide confidence and safety for people to own their lands. I hope that our people will make use of this land to cultivate to the best of their ability, resources and potential. I just want to add that we must maximize our intensification of the land to feed more people from the same plot of land. Previously we planned that the youth-student volunteers would go back to Phnom Penh once every one month. Now I seek your understanding that we would do so every two months instead. You have three days off in the province though./.