Housing rights workers yesterday welcomed news that the World Bank’s inspection panel will investigate a $24.3 million land titling program accused of denying titles to residents at the heart of a development dispute affecting some 4,000 families in the capital.
Though hopeful that the upshot will somehow help residents allegedly disenfranchised by the Bank-funded program, it remained unclear what the Bank may do if those allegations prove true.
The government canceled the Land Management and Administration Project in September after reaching an impasse with the Bank on how to deal with the urban poor.
In an announcement published on its website, the panel, which is an independent accountability office of the Bank, said it would review a complaint submitted by residents of Boeng Kak lake last September. Residents say the program left them powerless in the face of ongoing evictions.
“The World Bank can’t just drop the ball because the government is not willing to partner with them,” said Natalie Bugalski, a former legal officer for the Center on Housing Rights and Evictions, an organization involved in the complaint’s submission.
“The most important outcome that I hope to see from the process…is an acceptable remedy for the people of Boeng Kak, who have been unfairly denied title under LMAP and suffer displacement from their homes and land,” said Ms Bugalski, who now works as an independent consultant on housing rights issues in Cambodia.
According to David Pred, country director for Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia, precedent does exist for the Bank to help those affected.
He noted a recent example from Albania, where an investigation by the panel implicated another Bank program in forced evictions just over a year ago. In that case, the Bank provided direct legal assistance to the affected residents and left the door open for additional aid.
At the time, the Bank vowed not to let similar mistakes happen again.
“Well, they let it happen again, and this time it is 4,000 families losing their homes,” Mr Pred wrote in an e-mail. Ms Bugalski also raised the options of direct financial assistance, livelihood programs and health assistance.