Collapsed buildings and construction-related deaths in the past six months, alongside 23 already constructed buildings earmarked to be demolished, have drawn unwarranted attention to the issue of safety. To go deeper into this issue, Khmer Times invited Hoem Seiha director of Research at VTrust Appraisal and Sok Kin, president of the Building and Wood Workers Trade Union Federation of Cambodia to be interviewed in this week’s Cross Talk.
KT: Following building collapses in Siem Reap, Sihanoukville and Kep, what are your thoughts about the current construction industry in Cambodia?
Mr Seiha: In terms of the market, the clients do not show strong sentiment since they are more interested in single-storey houses. There have been rumours and speculations but the markets for condos and apartments have not slowed down. The clients in Phnom Penh are still confident because the incidents did not happen here. However, we have not conducted an official survey to understand the real feeling of the buyers.
Mr Sok Kin: In terms of labour, we have noticed, the construction workers do not feel safe while working in their jobs. Many of them who are members of the union, quit and do something else to make a living such as driving a tuk tuk. The others continually worry about their safety. In general, the workers do not understand the standards that have to be met in the industry.
KT to Mr Sok Kin: Does that mean the construction industry will face shortage of workers in the future?
Mr Sok Kin: The Builders’ Association has said that it is very hard to find workers in Cambodia because many of them go to other countries to find work. Reasons being higher payment, less working hours and better safety management and insurance. In Thailand for example, the workers can earn a lot money for the same job. On the other hand, in Cambodia, we can see that many construction workers are not provided with proper protection equipment. To overcome this, the builders must provide better payment and improved safety conditions.
KT: In terms of legislation, does Cambodia have any code to manage its construction?
Mr Sok Kin: I had a tri-party meeting with the employers and the government to discuss this topic. They said currently, Cambodia does not have a building code. The employers have been using the building codes from other countries, mainly Korea and China.
KT to Mr Seiha: If more such incidents happen in the future, how would the market be affected?
Mr Seiha: Should this happen the trust from the public will decrease and so would the number of contracts. The clients will seek services from high-profile construction companies with a good portfolio record. Meanwhile, the quality assurance contract between buyers and seller/builder do not exist in the country
KT: What do you think should be done to avoid building collapses and other construction-related incidents in the future?
Mr Seiha: I think the builders or developers should work closely with material and equipment suppliers to ensure the quality of the structures. The government, and particularly all stakeholders must hold stringent inspections regularly to ensure quality is upheld. A building code must be formulated or adopted from the countries where the weather and geographical features are similar to those in Cambodia, for example Thailand.
Mr Sok Kin: The core of the problem lies in the hands of two relevant Ministries—the Ministry of Land Management and the Ministry of Labour. Both ministries have the authority to inspect everything in the construction where each of them have specialised expertise and knowledge. The Ministry of Land Management has the power to grant licences to construction companies and inspect their structures. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Labour’s inspectors have to go into the field and assess the working conditions of the construction workers. They also have to adhere to the legislation, no matter whom they are dealing with. By doing that, I believe, there will be no more further incidents in the industry.
KT: When a construction-related accident happens, who should be the first one to be apprehended and held accountable?
Mr Sok Kin: The onus of accountability is on the contractor who is contracted to build the structure. The owner only pays the company or contractor for the construction and he or she waits for the finished product, so they should not be held accountable unless he or she interferes in the building process.
Mr Seiha: I agree with Mr Sok Kin’s idea.
KT to Mr Sok Kin: How do you pick the right construction company or contractor?
Mr Sok Kin: It is important to look into companies’ portfolio to study their past performance in their operations for quality and whether there has been any possibility that they have worked with corrupt officials to exploit the contract or the workers. The buyers should also avoid companies involved in scandals in and out of the country.