Gov’t Orders Transfer of Land to Poor Families

Ten thousand of the nation’s poorest families must receive plots of land from the state by the end of 2008, according to a new government directive ordering the implementation of pre-existing sub-decrees on social land concessions.

In March 2003, a sub-decree was passed making it possible to transfer state private land into the possession of people with little or no land, however implementation of this sub-decree has been slow-going with only a couple of pilot projects currently underway.

According to the Nov 8 directive, 416 families in each province and municipality should be allocated land concessions by the middle of 2008.

The directive, signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen, empowers provincial and municipal governors to decide how much land will be granted and where that land will be. The directive also en­courages provinces with more land to provide plots to villagers from smaller provinces to help meet the national goal.

“Development plans must be paid attention to–such as water, roads, health centers and schools–in order to change the people’s living standards and their wellbeing,” the directive states, adding that cost estimates of the infrastructural development of the designated land will be included in the 2009 national budget.

Kham Phoeun, Kratie provincial governor, said that his province, with help from the World Bank and German development organization GTZ, has already set aside 4,000 hectares of fertile farmland in five districts for social land concessions.

“We should be able to allocate the land by early 2008,” he said, adding that everyone in the pro­vince can apply for the land at their com­mune office, and that commune councilors will then, in a clear and transparent fashion, give land to those they deem the most in need.

SRP lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang said he was afraid that corruption would stand in the way of those in need of getting the land they deserve.

Without clear protocol it will be possible for wealthy officials to submit the names of their relatives to receive land, Eng Chhay Eang said.

“Corrupt officials use tricks to take the social land concession. I am concerned that when the government has no clear policy, the poor do not receive the land,” he said.

Chhith Sam Ath, NGO Forum executive director, said he supported the directive, provided it can be implemented in a transparent fashion and with the participation of all stakeholders.

“We observe that the granting of land economic concessions [to private companies] has been going very fast and the social concessions [to the poor] have been going very slow,” he said.

“If the government takes this seriously, it will be good,” he said, adding that studies have shown that between 20 and 25 percent of people in rural areas don’t have any land to farm.

David Pred, country director for the housing rights organization Bridges Across Borders, said he was cautiously optimistic about the new directive, but that he was concerned it could be abused or misapplied.

“In principle it’s a good thing to implement the sub-decree…if it’s used to give landless farmers and the most vulnerable people a chance to have land,” he said.

But there is also the danger that it could be misused to relocate people who currently live on land the government wants, he said.

Implementation also needs to go hand in hand with developmental assistance, he said.

“You can’t just drop extremely vul­nerable people on a plot of land and expect them to make a living,” he added.

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