The National Assembly is expected to forward a new, comprehensive land law to the Senate this week, after the lower parliamentary body approved the measure on Friday.
“This is an important law for the nation and the people,” said National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh, according to a Reuters report. “It is a big step toward dealing with land disputes.”
Since Vietnamese troops left in 1989, land ownership has been a tricky issue because of ambiguities in the law and an incomplete land title system. Paying bribes for fake titles is also common.
In recent years, thousands of rural villagers have come to Phnom Penh to protest land grabs by powerful businessmen, by the military and by high-ranking officials.
The long-awaited law, which has clear provisions for dealing with land disputes and which allows foreigners to lease land for the first time, was passed, 87-0, with one lawmaker abstaining.
Funcinpec lawmaker Keo Remy, representing Phnom Penh, said the overall law is good enough to solve land disputes because it reflects international standards. But he said the penalties included in the law are not tough enough. He noted that the maximum penalty for anyone who steals land or mortgages property that doesn’t belong to him is three years in prison.
The harshest punishment in the law is a five-year prison term and a fine of nearly $12,820 for abusing ownership of state property. Members of the armed forces who steal land are subjected to a maximum five-year prison sentence, administrative punishment and a fine of nearly $7,692.
“The penalty in the law does not respond to problem,” Keo Remy said.
Kim Sou Phirith, a Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker from Banteay Meanchey province, voted for the law, but he isn’t optimistic the measure will curb land disputes.
“Most of the land is taken by powerful people, so how can the government enforce this law?” he asked.