NGOs Lament Dearth of Transparency in Gov’t Land Concessions

The implementation of laws pertaining to land is flawed—particularly with regards to economic land concessions—and is adversely af­fecting rural communities by causing the removal of natural resour­ces, civil society groups said yesterday.

“The [2001] Land Law is good and supported by a lot of good sub-decrees…. [But] we found that most economic land concessions have been granted without properly implementing the economic land concession sub-decree,” NGO Forum Director Chhit Sam Ath said on the sidelines of the National Advocacy Conference on Gover­n­ance of Land and Natural Resour­ces in Phnom Penh.

“The rapid granting of economic land concessions is a key factor that causes land disputes,” Mr Sam Ath said, explaining that there is no transparency in the concession granting process. He added that there is also no accountability to communities affected by concessions, no effective resolution mechanisms and no way to verify if concessions are even on state land—all aspects of which are required by law but not enforced.

Ny Chakrya, head of monitoring at local rights group Adhoc, said during a break at the conference that the government issued concessions of land to companies which ex­ceed the legal limit of 10,000 hec­tare and does not follow required procedures to assess the impact of those concessions.

“There are illegal concessions; they are too big,” Mr Chakrya said.

He estimated more than half of all government land concessions re­main unused after they are cleared of forest and the timber is sold by the concession-holding companies.

Mr Chakrya said the government allowed companies to pay $1 per year per hectare during the first 14 years of a concession, adding that such a measure provided little financial pressure to develop those concessions.

Adhoc found during research that it was even unclear which government institutions are ultimately in charge of economic land concessions, he said.

During a presentation, he said 225,000 hectares of land were gran­ted as economic concessions in 2008, while in 25 cases of land evictions connected to land concessions in 2008, 10,526 families were resettled .

Mr Chakrya said only 1.67 million land titles had been registered between 2002 and 2007 during a World Bank-funded government pro­ject, while seven million Cam­bodians still wait on legal land ten­ure documents.

Ministry of Land Management spokeswoman Non Theany refer­r­ed all questions regarding economic land concessions to the Min­istry of Agriculture, adding, “My ministry just provides the technical assistance [to the concession process].”

With regard to the criticism of the slow land registration process, Ms Theany said: “If they had to do it themselves they would understand how difficult it is. They should find funds to help us. We don’t have enough human resour­ces to conduct [land] measurements.”

In September, the World Bank’s $24.5 million land-titling program was terminated when the Bank could not reach an agreement with the government over environmental and social safeguards for people in disputed urban communities.


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