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Shoddy construction blamed for Kep building collapse

Ben Sokhean / Khmer Times Share:
An official measures a pillar of the collapsed building in Kep province. KT/Chor Sokunthea

A government working group investigating the deadly building collapse in Kep province yesterday blamed shoddy construction, including the use of poor quality pillars, for the incident.

Tep Thon, a secretary of state at the Land Management Ministry and head of the working group, yesterday said poor quality cement was used to coat iron bars which supported the seven-storey building.

“The construction of the building was not done according to technical standards. For example, the southwestern pillars were too weak to support the building,” Mr Thon said. “Based on technical standards, the [contractor] needs to use 16 iron bars but he used only eight iron bars to support each pillar.”

“The workers also said that they mixed the cement used to coat the pillars by hand instead of using cement mixers as is standard practice,” he said.

He also confirmed reports saying the building’s construction started before approval was given by the provincial administration.

Asked why the authorities allowed the contractor to construct the building before getting approval, Mr Thon blamed such incidents on the builders themselves.

“It is normal practice for Khmer builders to start working on buildings as soon as possible, even if the law requires them to ask for permission first because the date for construction to start had already been set. We can’t blame them,” he said.

Mr Thon refused to say who would be held responsible for the collapse.

On January 3, the under-construction hotel building collapsed in Kep city and killed 36 people, including children. Twenty-three other people were injured.

Shortly after the collapse, Land Management Minister Chea Sophara established the working group to conduct an investigation and look into what caused the incident.

According to a statement issued earlier this month, Mr Sophara said the working group comprises of 11 ministry and provincial land management department senior officials.

The group was also assigned to inspect the terms and conditions of the building’s contractors and report to the ministry as soon as possible.

Lay Sovannara, deputy director of the provincial land management department, yesterday said the working group had completed the investigation.

“The investigation is finally complete and the findings were sent to the ministry for review,” he said, referring questions to his director Vov Sokha, who refused to comment yesterday.

According to police in Kep province, the contractor responsible for the building construction and his children also died in the collapse and a construction supervisor who had been detained after the collapse was allowed to return home after being cleared of any wrongdoing.

Provincial authorities have said that construction of the building started five months before approval was given by provincial governor Ken Sitha on August 2.

Soth Puthi Manin, another deputy director of the provincial land management department and a member of the working group, could not be reached for comment yesterday, but he told VOD Khmer recently the owners had requested for permission to build a five-storey hotel building.

He said although permission was given for the five-storey hotel, a seven-storey building was being built, including a mezzanine level above the ground floor.

Mr Puthi Manin said the mezzanine slabs, which were not included in the building permit request, were added after the fourth floor had been built.

A day after the incident, Interior Minister Sar Kheng told reporters at the site the building collapsed because poor quality construction materials were used.

“The reason for the collapse is because it was badly constructed,” he said. “Even now no specific persons are held responsible, but one thing we know is that building materials were substandard.”

“Based on the law, they need to conduct inspections but maybe [officials] failed to conduct thorough inspections,” Mr Kheng said. “We need to find answers.”

Police arrested the building owners Ek Sarun and his wife Chhiv Sothy, who live in Preah Sihanouk province’s Sihanoukville, and Kampot provincial court charged them last week with manslaughter and causing involuntary bodily harm under Articles 207 and 236 of the Criminal Code.

Kep province does not have a court.

However, they were released after posting an $87,000 bail to avoid pre-trial detention.

Defence lawyer Kong Sam Onn yesterday said that he was too busy to comment on the case.

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