Bank’s Missteps May Go Beyond Phnom Penh

Last week’s decision by the World Bank’s board of directors rightly focused on Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak lake. The board backed an independent report finding that its own mistakes helped strip some 4,000 families of their land.

But according to a Bank report released last week, more than twice as many other families across the country may also be facing the same fate because of the same faulty Bank program that failed the lake residents.

In a Jan 21 response to the independent report that was released yesterday, the Bank’s country team said nearly 8,500 families beyond the lake, who were scheduled for land titling under the now-defunct project, had either been evicted, slated for eviction or faced land claims from outsiders.

Despite their own “good faith” claims to legal ownership, it says, “it would appear these households were excluded from making claims as part of the titling process on the basis of assertions that they were not lawful possessors.”

Rather than stepping in to help, “management has thus far not been in a position to act upon this information in order to ensure proper implementation of steps to assist the affected people in these communities.”

As with Boeng Kak lake, the country team blames a lack of cooperation from the government, which refuses to even admit that the communities were ever part of the project precisely because their land was in dispute.

But according to the independent review backed by the Bank’s executive board last week in Washington, the Bank played its part.

Though the investigation focused on Boeng Kak lake, it also took a broader look at the project. Kicked off in 2002, the Land Management and Administration Project aimed to help the government recover from Khmer Rouge policies that wiped out private property and most pre-existing records.

The investigation found flaws with both design and implementation.

“Design flaws in the project led to arbitrary exclusions of lands from the titling process and denied residents the opportunity to claim and formalize their pre-existing rights,” the report said. “Lack of support for the poor due to incomplete and inadequate implementation […] left them vulnerable to claims on their land.”

Among them was a farming community in Kampot province’s Chhumkiri district.

Chhim Sangvath, a local coordinator for Human Rights Vigilance of Cambodia, said about 350 hectares of the community’s farmland was cut out of the titling process in 2004 because of a competing land claim from the local RCAF base.

“At first, this area in Chres commune was supposed to be registered with the LMAP project, but then it was canceled because there was a dispute with the soldiers,” she said.

Officials at the base could not be reached yesterday. Ms Sangvath said the soldiers had been gradually encroaching on the farmers’ land since 2004.

“They will lose their land and their houses,” she said.

World Bank officials in Cambodia have not responded to questions about LMAP since last week’s decision in Washington. But in its Jan 21 report, drawing on both government and NGO data, the country team says communes under the project’s jurisdiction were no more likely to face land disputes than those outside it.

Even so, the team said it would continue trying to help the 8,500 families. It did not make clear how.

Land Management Ministry spokeswoman Nonn Pheany cast doubt on the Bank’s figures.

“The World Bank knows about a lot of disputes in Cambodia,” she said. “But what did [the Bank] depend on? I don’t know.”



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