Donors Should Review Land Support, Rights Workers Say

Following this week’s decision by the World Bank’s inspection panel to investigate land titling amid evictions at Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak lake, rights workers said other donors should follow suit and even consider suspending their related support for the government.

An independent body of the World Bank, the panel will investigate complaints by residents at the lake that the Bank-funded, government-run Land Management and Administration Project denied them land titles as the city proceeded with one the largest evictions in post-war Cambodia.

The government canceled LMAP in September after failing to agree on terms with the Bank on how to proceed with the titling of poor communities.

Despite the Bank’s exit, however, the government has continued granting titles with the same framework largely intact, said Nonn Theany, spokesman for the Ministry of Land Management.

And according to Ms Theany, the governments of Canada, Finland and Germany have maintained their support of the current program.

Rights workers said yesterday the remaining donor countries should review their support the government’s land titling.

“They should investigate because they want to be transparent and to know about the program,” said Sia Phearum, director of the Housing Rights Task Force. “They should do it.”

“The other donors should be listening very carefully to the inspection panel’s findings. It would be quite negligent of them to ignore the findings,” said Natalie Bugalski, former legal officer for the Center on Housing Rights and Evictions.

She suggested that countries consider suspending their support.

“The evidence to date of problems in the land titling program and the impact on affected residents should be enough for the donors to reconsider their engagement with the government until they can ensure legal procedures and due process rights are respected,” said Ms Bugalski, now an independent consultant on land rights issues.

According to the Council for the Development of Cambodia, Finland distributed about $2.2 million to LMAP in 2008 while Canada contributed another $1.11 million. Germany’s development agency, GTZ, does not participate directly in distributing land titles but its land management projects amounted to $1.19 million that year.

If anything, Ms Bugalski said, “GTZ is more involved in the day-to-day running of the program” than the World Bank used to be.

And while GTZ has reviewed its role in the program, she added, “there has been very little made public about their findings.”

GTZ officials authorized to speak with the press could not be reached yesterday.

A message requesting comment left yesterday with the Canadian Cooperation Office was not returned, and a technical assistant at Finnmap-a mapping contractor handling Finland’s participation in the titling program-referred questions to the country’s embassy in Bangkok.

The inspection panel has announced no timetable for its investigation.

(Additional reporting by Phorn Bopha)


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