Prime Minister Hun Sen has ordered authorities to take serious measures to solve land issues, partly in efforts to boost development and foreign investment.
But land advocates and experts say the 11-point directive is just a reminder of existing regulations. What is necessary, they say, is action, not words.
The order forbids private ownership on state property and bans the issuance of land title certificates to those who illegally grabbed land. Other points include monitoring concession land and removing squatters from roadsides and railways.
“If such problems continue, it will hinder the country’s development plans,” Hun Sen wrote in the directive dated Sept 23 and released by the Ministry of Information on Wednesday.
The order requires government institutions to cooperate closely to carry out the points. Officials who resist could be suspended, according to the order.
“The government would like to solve land issues because we would like to attract more foreign investment to Cambodia,” said Chea Sophan, secretary of state for the Council of Ministers. “To do so, we need to assure Cambodia’s land ownership.”
The directive was prompted by resettlement issues along national roads scheduled for rehabilitation, said Noranarith Ananda Yath, undersecretary of state for the Council of Ministers. In the course of discussions at inter-ministerial meetings, other land issues were addressed and added in the order, he said.
According to the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, more than 1,000 families are affected by plans to rehabilitate Route 1.
Nationwide, tens of thousands of families will be affected by other national road rehabilitation projects.
Money from international financial institutions will not come unless the government solves the problem of illegal settlers along the roads, said Yit Bunna, director of the ministry’s Public Works Research Center.
“Local authorities have neglected the regulations and pocketed bribes to allow people to live there,” Yit Bunna claimed. He noted that regulations require people to live at least five meters from the edge of the road. “The space is needed for traffic and pollution safety and future development. I think the prime minister is worrying about the development of the country as well as the safety of people. This is critical.”
In response to Hun Sen’s order, Phnom Penh municipality, which has thousands of squatters on roadsides and railroads, will hold an inter-department meeting next week to discuss plans for action, Cabinet Chief Mann Chhoeun said. He said the premier’s directive is what was needed to enforce the relocation of illegal residents.
The Ministry of Agriculture already has established a committee to re-evaluate the use of concession land. Chan Tong Yves, Agriculture secretary of state, said the ministry would take concession land back if planned operations aren’t being carried out.
Although land experts acknowledge the government appears to have the political will to solve land issues, they say the announcement should have addressed how to implement the order.
“It’s just information on the existing regulations, not new measures to tackle the issues,” said Ang Eng Thong, president of the Bar Association of Cambodia.
Experts say the government needs to develop a national land policy, revise the land law and establish an authorized body to solve all kinds of land issues.
Janet King, country director for the University of San Francisco’s land study project, said that the major problem is that the current land law is not clear about who possesses what land.
The Council of Jurists under the Council of Ministers is drafting a revised land law. The final draft is expected to be available next week.