Though the Council of Ministers’ adoption on Friday of a new subdecree on economic land concessions effectively meets one of the reform benchmarks the government agreed to at the last Consultative Group meeting in December 2004, questions about how it will be enforced remain, donor and NGO officials said Monday.
The land concession subdecree outlines the procedures and conditions for awarding public land to private interests for the stated purpose of establishing job-creating agricultural development zones.
But with land disputes becoming increasingly common and the potential for violence escalating, international donors had demanded a legal framework as a means of ensuring stability and transparency in the concession process.
World Bank Country Manager Nisha Agrawal said she hadn’t seen the final subdecree that was issued on Friday, but that it was one of the reform goals the government had agreed to in December 2004.
Agrawal was hopeful that some of the donors’ recommendations, including the need for public tendering for all concessions, were included in the final version and that the government would start reviewing existing concessions to see whether they are legal in light of the new subdecree.
Russell Peterson, director of the NGO Forum, also hadn’t seen the adopted version but was hopeful other methods of agricultural and economic development would be adopted to help average farmers, who, he said, often don’t benefit from the current large-scale concession system.
“In particular we hope the government will remain committed to also giving social concessions in order to give poor Cambodian farmers some basis for livelihood security,” he said.
Agriculture Minister Chan Sarun could not be reached Sunday or Monday. Kith Seng, director of the Agriculture Ministry’s planning department, said he too had not yet seen the subdecree and did not know when it would be implemented.
“I am waiting for the word from the Minister [Chan Sarun] to apply it,” he added.