Legal experts and land advocates on Monday urged the government to put on hold all state property deals, saying they are a major cause of the land-ownership mess in Cambodia.
Ang Eng Thong, president of the Bar Association of Cambodia and representing a group of NGOs and international organizations, called for the moratorium at a forum on the recently revised draft land law.
“Improper dealings in public property by corrupt or incompetent officials and the military are robbing future generations of Cambodians of their inheritance,” Ang Eng Thong wrote in a statement. “All agencies should stop granting private interests in state land until state property has been registered and the responsible authorities have been identified.”
Government lawyer Heng Vong Bunchat, who wrote the revised land law, did not comment after the forum. But he indicated that all suggestions will be considered.
“Today, we found several points that the government should rethink….We will review the suggestions and revise the proposed law,” Heng Vong Bunchat said.
About 120 people, representing the government, NGOs, donors and other organizations, met at the Council of Ministers to discuss the draft land law. Media were barred from the forum.
Participants afterward praised the draft law for provisions that would protect families who have lived on the same land for at least five years without legal title. But they submitted a 19-page point-by-point suggestion on improving the draft.
According to the Ministry of Land Management and Construction, nearly 80 percent of the nation’s land is still owned by the state and only 14 percent of all land in Cambodia is properly registered with the national land management system. About three-fourths of the land in Phnom Penh is not secured by legal title, the ministry says.
Legal experts and land advocates have said that because of lack of mapping and proper titling, land disputes involving powerful officials and business people have increased in the last few years, leaving the poor and vulnerable landless. A recent study by the Oxfam Cambodia Land Study Project found that one household in six has no farmland and other assets.
“Confusion about where public land begins and ends and the high price demanded by corrupt officials for registering land are contributing to the plague of land disputes,” said Lean Chenda, first deputy director of Legal Aid of Cambodia, which represents nearly 30,000 clients in land disputes nationwide.
The Ministry of Land Management and Construction just recently submitted the revised draft land law to the Council of Jurists for the government’s review. Heng Vong Bunchat said Prime Minister Hun Sen has ordered the Council of Jurists to submit a final version of the proposed law by June 6 to the Council of Ministers for final review.
Heng Vong Bunchat was hired to rewrite the land law by the Asian Development Bank, after the Council of Ministers last year ordered the Ministry of Land Management to revise a 1998 draft in response to criticism by NGOs. Creating a new land law is an ADB condition for Cambodia to receive a second disbursement of a $30 million loan.
(Additional reporting by Phann Ana)