Families classified as being part of the urban poor could be granted land titles giving them the “legal right” to remain where they’re currently living if they pass an assessment by City Hall, a government official said on Wednesday.
The timing of the announcement, with commune elections just a month away, has led one NGO to claim it is an attempt to curry favor with voters.
An estimated 205 communities will be surveyed as part of the proposal, although there is no clear indication of when the assessment will begin or end, City Hall spokesman Met Measpheakdey said.
“We’ve added the consideration of the ability to provide them with the legal right” to the land, he said. “Although the occupation of the land is illegal, we can arrange it.”
He did not name the communities involved, but added that many resided on state land or locations such as canals outside the city center.
“We will divide it into plots of land in order to grant them land titles after we finish evaluating if they are actually from this area,” he said.
“It is not that it will be granted in every case. We have to study first,” he added. It is not yet clear what would happen to families that are not approved.
However, Soeung Saran, advocacy program manager at land rights NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, said the plan was likely a “campaign just to gain popularity ahead of the election,” and would require both government transparency and collaboration with civil society members to truly be beneficial.
“The government has to develop a clear guideline in order to make sure what kind of criteria will be used to measure about the right of the community to get the land titles,” he said.
As recently as 2014, Mr. Saran added, his organization had identified 340 urban poor communities in Phnom Penh comprised of roughly 15,000 households.
(Additional reporting by Janelle Retka)