By Tea Soentoro
This is the second of a two-part story of Ming Chhin’s struggle to get her life back after being involuntary displaced by an ADB funded Highway One Project in Cambodia .
MANILA, PHILIPPINES, 22 Feb 11 — With a promise of better life through the new Highway One Road project funded by the Asian Development Bank, Ming Chhin and her neighbors are still waiting. Though Ming Chhin has received compensation amounting to US$1,700, it was not enough to make their lives better off.
Ming Chhin continued her story, “We had to fight hard to get our lives back. Before the project came into our lives, we had peaceful lives, we had jobs, we had stores, we had our homes, we lived close to our neighbors, we had an enjoyable community life. Now, we have to fight that the Project should keep the that promise [of better life].” To get their lives back, Ming Chhin together with 63 other families of Stung Slot and Kraing Khok communities of Prey Veng province submitted a complaint to the Office of Special Project Facilitator (OSPF) of ADB Accountability Mechanism in July 2007. The OSPF declared their complaint eligible and in its Review and Assessment Report (RAR) dated 24 October 2007, it subsumed its findings in two issues: land title and impoverishment.
Moreover, Ming Chhin and members of their communities also talked directly to ADB about their problems. “I went to meetings to tell ADB about our problems; at the ADB Annual Governors’ Meeting in Kyoto and visited ADB office in Manila. We were supported by NGOs to meet ADB people to raise our problems. We also demanded from them to give us land title for security, solve our debt problem which arose because of the delay in compensation. They should help us restore our livelihood means which we lost because of the Highway 1 Road project. We wanted our lives and community back,” Chhin said.
End of 2009, Ming Chhin finally received the news about ADB’s income restoration program which aims to helping affected communities to deal with their accumulated debt burdens and reestablish their livelihood activities. Chhin said she felt that ADB could finally fulfill its promise and her dream for a better life after years of hardships caused by the Highway One Road project.
Acknowledging that involuntary resettlement for the Highway One Project had caused impoverishment and debt trap for the 63 families of Stung Slot and Kraing Khok communities, the ADB provided US$500,000 worth of grant for a Technical Assistance that would be implemented over 24 months from November 2009 to October 2011.
However, it is wrong to think that this TA would be solely for the restoration of the income and livelihoods of the affected communities. The TA is composed of two main components: (1) Improvement of social research and analysis skills for the executing agency of the project and other line ministry staff; and (2) Improvement of livelihoods of affected people in selected pilot communities. The latter will include: livelihood skills training, payment of debt to informal money lenders, access to credit by developing a community for seed funds. Though this TA is a proof of the ADB’s acknowledgement of its failure to prevent the impoverishment of affected communities, the financing plan of this TA shows that only US $100,000 of the US$500,000 provided by ADB was allocated for the community seed fund; the per-diem of international consultant that implements the TA was allocated for US $150,000 and local consultant for US$64,000. So whose income will actually be improved by this TA?
In their modesty, affected people were grateful for the TA because they thought that their problem would finally be resolved. Ming Chhin was happy that her debt to local money lenders was paid. Also the debt of other families.
For their survival, because the full compensation was four years late, they were forced to borrow money from money lenders with very high interest rates: 20% per month. The scary moment for her, and for others as well, was the time when the local creditors sued them before the local court because they could not pay them back. They were relieved that the court rejected the complaint, and ADB had paid their debt to money lenders. Ming Chhin borrowed US$300. At the end, debt reached US$1,625 due to interests.
After 8 months since the start of the Income Restoration Program, Ming Chhin’s new hope of her life improving, faded slowly. “The process is very slow. Many times I think that we won’t get the money at all. If we ask when we will get the money, the community facilitator said that ADB doesn’t send the money to Cambodia yet. If they want to be involved in the discussion about the fund, they were rejected; if they complained, the community facilitators said that they have to go to the program leader. If this slow process continues, I am afraid that we will go back to borrowing from money lenders again because we don’t have any alternative.”
Eleven years of promise, Ming Chhin and members of her community are still waiting. Ming Chhin was in Manila recently. She knocked on the doors of ADB Executive Directors asking for the promise of better life made by the ADB to her and members of her community. But it seems that Ming Chhin and her communities have to wait longer until ADB keeps its promise.
1 Based on several interactions with Ming Chhin in Kyoto, San Pablo and Quezon City
2 ADB. Office of the Special Project Facilitator, Consultation Phase of the Accountability Mechanism, Annual Report 2009, p. 4-5, at: http://www.adb.org/Documents/Reports/Consultation-Accountability-Mechanism/ OSPF-annual-report-2009.pdf
3 ADB. June 2010, Final Report of the Special Project Facilitator on The Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City Highway Project in Cambodia ADB Loan 1659-Cam(Sf) (15 December 1998) (Complaint received 30 july 2007) at: http://www.adb.org/Documents/SPF-Reports/CAM/CAM-FinalReport.pdf
4 ADB, October 2009, Capacity Development Technical Assistance (CDTA), Kingdom of Cambodia: Capacity Development for Income Restoration Programs, p.3 at http://www.adb.org/Documents/TARs/CAM/43174- CAM-TAR.pdf
5 Ibid. Appendix 1, Matrix of Design and Monitoring Framework, p. 6 6 Ibid, Appendix 2, Cost Estimates and Financing Plan, p. 8.