Draft Decree To Set Framework for Land Swaps

A draft decree establishing a legal framework for the controversial practice of swapping state pro­perty with private firms is waiting to be signed by Prime Minis­ter Hun Sen, according to a copy ob­tained Wednesday.

The draft sets out the legal procedures under which ministries, cities and provinces could swap “vacant lands, lands and State owned buildings,” to resolve “of­fice space issues,” according to an unofficial translation of the draft.

It does not specify what lands or state-owned buildings this would include.

In the first months of this year an avalanche of controversial and secretive land swap deals have swept the country with private firms being granted prime state-owned real estate in return for buildings on less valuable land.

According to the draft decree, every swap would have to be conducted through a bidding pro­cess.

Private companies would have to bid publicly to build new buildings for the government with the lowest bidder winning, according to the copy of the draft.

It does not specify whether this means offering to build the government a new building at the lowest cost or for the best value for money.

Money made from the sale of state property would be used to pay for the new building, and left over money would be kept for “other public investment purpose” the draft says.

Chea Sophara, secretary of state at the Ministry of Land Manage­ment, said he had heard about a legal draft that might legalize land swaps but said he was not certain of the details.

“It’s not my competence to talk on this issue,” he said.

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said he did not have a copy of the draft, but he said he be­lieved the government already has all the necessary regulations in place for renting, leasing, selling and swapping state land.

Lao Mong Hay of the Center for Social Development welcomed the law to regulate the swapping of state properties, which until now has been largely shrouded in secrecy.

But one foreign legal adviser noted that the draft does not in­clude any standards for the bidding process.

“It leaves a lot to be desired in terms of detail about how [the bidding process] would work,” he said on condition of anonymity.


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