On 4 May 2024, Channel News Asia (“CNA”) published an article titled “IN FOCUS: Cambodia’s US$16 billion ‘Eco-City’ Raises Financial and Environmental Concerns” authored by Mr. Jack Board. On the same day, CNA uploaded a video titled “The Bay of Lights: Cambodia’s city on sand” to its official YouTube account @channelnewsasia. The article and video report on the Bay of Lights project, an urban development project by Canopy Sands Development in Ream, Sihanoukville Cambodia.

Canopy Sands Development wishes to make the following points in response:

  1. A section of CNA’s article titled “EVERYONE IS GONE” asserts that the Bay of Lights project has left local people “wallowing in its wake”. This section of the article purports that the “artisanal fisherfolk who have called the Ream Bay home for generations” have been deprived of their livelihood, fishing villages have been cleared out, and local people have been relocated. CNA’s video makes similar assertions. These assertions are surprising to Canopy Sands Development:
    1. First, Canopy Sands Development is not aware of any displacement or relocation of local people associated with the Bay of Lights project. The project is built on entirely reclaimed land. Insofar as the surrounding area has been used for construction work and project activity, Canopy Sands Development is not aware of any prior land ownership in the project area. In initial surveys and consultation with local authorities, it was determined that the area was zoned for tourism, and no houses were built there. To ensure responsible development aligned with this zoning, Canopy Sands Development commissioned Surbana Jurong, a Singaporean state-owned enterprise, in 2019 to conduct its masterplanning.
    2. Further, efforts were taken to mitigate the impact that the project may have on the livelihood of the local community, who continue their fishing activities in the bay today. Feedback gathered from the local community determined that 80% of local fishermen fish at the islands south of the project area instead rather than at the project area itself. To protect and sustain the fishing activities in the surrounding area, water quality management measures were implemented to protect the mangrove forests and avoid impact to the seabed resources as far as possible. These measures include a wastewater treatment system that was set up on the project site.
    3. In addition, Canopy Sands Development continually strives to participate and give back to the local community. Canopy Sands Development maintains regular communication and good relations with the two communities closest to the project site – the Ong Krav and Ong Knong villages. 172 locals from Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville are presently employed in the project workforce and are provided with robust training and skills development. Canopy Sands Development has also participated in local humanitarian efforts and grassroots initiatives to support the local community.   
  2. CNA’s article states “The Bay of Lights is an example of land being handed over to a private entity by the state, with little or no payments made – or at the very least, no public disclosure or compensation”. The insinuation is that corruption or other inappropriate conduct was involved. This is an extremely serious allegation. It is wholly untrue, and is not supported by any evidence. All transactions related to the Bay of Lights projects were conducted transparently and in accordance with all relevant laws and regulations.
  3. The article further raises environmental concerns about the land reclamation works undertaken by the project, and asserts that there have been “sudden and dramatic” impacts on fishermen and their catches in the Ream Bay area.
    Canopy Sands Development reiterates that the project has implemented water quality management measures to protect the mangrove forests and avoid impact to seabed resources as far as possible. These measures include a wastewater treatment system, perimeter bunds, embankments, weir-boxes, silt curtains and a drainage system designed to minimise the impact to the water level in Beoung Thom Kangkep and Prek Peam Canal.
    Further, in the planning phase of the project, Canopy Sands Development engaged a government accredited impact assessment consultancy firm to conduct a comprehensive study on the impact of the project on the local community. The firm have provided environmental consultant services in support of infrastructure projects in Cambodia and Southeast Asia. The study involved, amongst other things, public consultations with local village leaders and interviews with 254 families living near the project area. The feedback and suggestions of the local community were taken into consideration in the Environmental Management Plan for the project. The study also found that 95% of the stakeholders supported the project and were optimistic about the employment opportunities, improved living standards, and tourism and investments that the project would bring to the region.

Canopy Sands Development is fully committed and will continue to work with local stakeholders and take all steps to mitigate the project’s impact to the local community and the environment. Canopy Sands Development remains committed to its vision of sustainable development in Cambodia through projects such as the Bay of Lights.

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