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Civil Society Urges Improved Regulation as Second Construction Collapse Kills at Least 36

Rescue operation for victims of an under-construction building collapse in Kep province, Cambodia, Saturday, January 4, 2020. (Khan Sokummono/VOA Khmer)

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen at a press conference on Sunday said that the construction contractor in Kep should be accountable for poor construction.

Civil society groups in Cambodia have called on the government to improve construction industry regulation after Friday’s major construction site building collapse in Kep province, the second such calamity in Cambodia in some six months.

Authorities on Monday confirmed 36 dead due to the collapse of the incomplete concrete structure in Kep. Most of the killed were workers on the project, police said.

Additionally, the public citizen advocates asked for authorities to speed up investigation into the first collapse, which killed some 28 people in late June in the port-resort town of Sihanoukville.

Sok Kin, president of Building and Wood Workers Trade Union Federation of Cambodia, said Monday that authorities are responsible for overseeing construction procedures and ensuring that quality inspections are properly enforced.

“How could they have built up to six or seven floors if the quality wasn’t up to standard?” he asked. “I’m not accusing any party of corruption.”

The Friday collapse in Kep province — with at least 23 people injured, in addition to a death toll of 36 so far, police said — follows a similar incident at a Chinese-owned construction project in coastal Sihanoukville. Authorities could not confirm that the construction site in Sihanoukville met proper building-quality requirements.

Preap Kol, the executive director of Transparency International Cambodia, said there were questionable actions in regards to corruption in the industry.

“If we try to prevent [such collapse] from happening a third time—what needs to be done?,’’ Preap Kol said. ‘’This would require the utmost attention, responsibility, and strict regulation.’’

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen at a press conference on Sunday said that the construction contractor in Kep should be accountable for poor construction.

He said that neither Kep provincial governor nor his deputy would be removed from office, as was the case in Preah Sihanouk province. Former Preah Sihanouk provincial governor Yun Min resigned shortly after the June tragedy in his province and subsequently was appointed to a new government position.

The two collapses, and the high death tolls, have raised concerns about construction and workers’ safety in Cambodia.

A commission has been set up to investigate the building collapse in Kep province, authorities said. A similar investigation of the building collapse in Sihanoukville has not yielded public results.

Sreng Vanly, a Sihanoukville-based coordinator for rights group Licadho, said he has not received updates on court proceedings or investigation results from the ministry.

Cambodian officials contacted for this story could not be reached or said they had no further information on the investigation.

Seng Lot, representative of the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, told VOA Khmer that the ministry is currently holding key meetings about the Sihanoukville investigation.

Preap Kol suggested authorities speed up the Sihanoukville investigation to provide justice to the victims and information to the public.

The World Bank 2018 report had warned of the cost of rapid and uncontrolled real estate development in Sihanoukville which is said to operate on a “build first, license later” timeline. According to the report, “the granting of permits and control of construction is beyond the authority of individual provincial departments and municipality.”