Prime Minister Hun Sen said Thursday that the granting of land concessions for the rural poor and processing of land titles would be sped up if funding could be found.
His endorsement of social land concessions came as the World Bank unveiled its 2006 Poverty Assessment, which diagnoses agricultural development as the key to halving Cambodia’s poverty.
“Identifying non-functioning economic concessions and supporting the orderly redistribution of this land to the landless would transform non-productive land into productive land,” Hun Sen said.
He maintained that land for the poor had been held up for two reasons. First, infrastructure such as schools must be built if new farmers are going to be willing to move to remote locations.
Second, he said, whenever officials working on the granting of concessions have traveled to remote locations they found that the available land had already been grabbed by the powerful. “These greedy officials who are powerful and ambitious should immediately cease and do whatever you can for the sake of our people,” he said.
Hun Sen welcomed the report’s conclusion, based on a 2004 government survey, that the number of people living under the poverty line has decreased by 12 percent since 1994, from 47 percent to 35 percent.
“This assessment can help clarify the misperception in some international and national circles that Cambodia’s robust growth over the past decade did not contribute to poverty reduction,” he said.
The World Bank analysis also spotlighted rising inequality, finding that Cambodia’s poorest have only become 8 percent richer, while the richest have become 45 percent more wealthy over 10 years.
Finance Ministry Secretary-General Hang Chuon Naron said the inequality was to be expected.
“The initial phase of development, as in China and India, is always associated with rising inequality,” Hang Chuon Naron said.
Sok Hach, whose Economic Institute of Cambodia was involved in drafting the report, said his analysis indicates that most of the poverty reduction occurred in the first five years after 1994.
“We can say that at least since 2000, there has been a substantial slowdown in poverty reduction,” he said, adding that this was evidence that most benefits came from the ending of the civil war.