The World Bank’s Inspection Panel left Cambodia on Thursday after a five-day investigation into the bank’s management of the $28.8-million LMAP land titling program that allegedly failed to implement safeguard policies designed to protect people from forced eviction.
The complaint of discrimination in the land titling process, which was filed by the Center on Housing Rights and Evictions in September and supported by NGO Bridges Across Borders Cambodia, alleged that residents living in the Boeng Kak lake community were excluded from receiving titles through the bank-funded Land Management and Administration Project, or LMAP.
“These safeguards were essential for such a high-risk project in a country that is renowned for its lack of good governance and law enforcements,” Bret Thiele, a senior litigation expert at COHRE, said in a statement released on Monday.
COHRE said in its complaint to the World Bank’s panel that LMAP had failed to adequately investigate the requests for land titles of thousands of residents when land titling was carried out in the Boeng Kak area in 2006.
Shortly afterward, the government granted “an illegal 99-year lease over the area to Shukaku Inc, a company chaired by Lao Meng Khin, a Senator from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and close associate of Prime Minister Hun Sen,” COHRE said in the statement.
Rolando Modina, COHRE executive director, said yesterday that World Bank investigators were present in Phnom Penh last week and that they had told NGOs that a final report bearing investigative conclusions would be released in October.
Mr Modina said the panel had conducted discussions with Boeng Kak residents as well as several NGOs including COHRE, Bridges Across Borders Cambodia and the Housing Rights Task Force.
“I think the main issue for the World Bank is to mitigation the harm that has been done,” he said. “Compensation for the people that have been affected would be one priority.”
The World Bank’s inspection panel head office in Washington did not respond to written questions submitted yesterday and officials at the World Bank in Phnom Penh declined to comment.
David Pred, executive director of Bridges Across Borders Cambodia, said in an email yesterday, that the investigators visited Cambodia between Sunday and Thursday and met with a range of people.
“As far as I know, they also met with World Bank country and project management, government officials and the other LMAP development partners,” he wrote. “They have not come to any conclusions yet.”
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said he did not know about the panel’s visit.
Ministry of Land Management spokeswoman Nun Theany, said she was unaware whom the panel had met with or what the discussion had entailed.
Soy Kolab, a representative from village 6 in Boeng Kak commune, said the panel had asked villagers where LMAP had proved inadequate and what needed to be done in order to help residents.
“If we have a proper land title the government cannot evict us,” she said.
Sia Phearum, secretariat director for the Housing Rights Task Force, said that Boeng Kak residents had told the panel that they wanted proper land titles to be handed out.
Such a request depends on the “commitment of the government,” Mr Phearum said, adding “As you know the World Bank cannot force the government to do what they want.”
The Ministry of Land Management was responsible for LMAP’s implementation.
In an April report by the World Bank panel announcing its agreement to launch a full investigation into the LMAP program’s deficiencies, LMAP management said that the achievements of the project had been “uneven” and that relations with the government had been strained.
After the World Bank initially voiced its concerns that the program had failed in issuing land titles to people in poor urban areas where land disputes were frequent, the Council of Ministers abruptly cancelled the titling program at a meeting on Sept 4, four months before its scheduled end.
At the time, the LMAP project had already exceeded its goal, set out at the project’s inception in 2002, of issuing 1 million land titles by the close of 2009.
(Additional reporting by Neou Vannarin)