Japanese Company to Rebuild White Building

A Japanese company is planning the demolition and reconstruction of Phnom Penh’s iconic White Building, the Ministry of Land Management said on Thursday—two years after the city’s governor first announced it had been condemned.

The low-income housing block along Sothearos Boulevard in Chamkar Mon district has been home to hundreds of families and small businesses since its completion under Prince Sihanouk in 1963.

Motorists drive past the White Building in Phnom Penh on Thursday afternoon. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Motorists drive past the White Building in Phnom Penh on Thursday afternoon. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

In June, the government requested Japan’s assistance in developing the decrepit building, though the details of that request were vague. One company has since stepped up, Land Management Ministry spokesman Seng Lot said on Thursday.

“Now the Japanese company is studying its reconstruction—how to construct the building efficiently and maintain people’s safety longer,” Mr. Lot said.

He declined to identify the company, but said it had already made an initial proposal to the government.

“In their study, they found a temporary plot of land for people when the construction begins,” he said.

The site is in Toek Thla commune behind the Royal Phnom Penh Hospital, Mr. Lot said, adding that he did not know how much the project would cost or when it might move ahead.

“We really hope when the study is done, the company will start the demolition to eliminate risks,” he said.

In September 2014, municipal governor Pa Socheatvong’s announcement that the building would be demolished was met with a public outcry, causing officials to temporarily step back from the pledge.

Residents said on Thursday that they remained skeptical of the promise of a better home.

“You can just look and say it’s dilapidated, but if you take a hammer and hit it, it’s not really going to decay like they have said,” said Chhit Saroeun, 45, who added he would be willing to leave for $50,000 in compensation.

“I don’t trust the developers,” said another resident, Dy Sreang, 50. “Because you have seen that during the planning they ask people to leave temporarily and then they keep it as their own.”

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