The SRP will oppose the approval of a draft law on expropriation when it is debated at the National Assembly next week, the opposition party said in a statement released yesterday.
The draft law, scheduled to be debated by the Assembly on Monday, sets guidelines for the government to provide “fair and just” compensation for the expropriation of private property.
SRP lawmakers, however, said that amid forced evictions and frequent land disputes, the country is not ready for any expropriations.
“The government should first put all efforts to strengthen state institutions such as local administration, ministries in charge of land management and the judiciary in order to enhance their capacity and to fulfill their responsibility such as the issuance of land titles to all citizens who are entitled to land ownership,” the SRP said.
The draft legislation, approved by the Council of Ministers on Oct 9, covers “any construction and rehabilitation, and public physical infrastructure expansion project for the public and national interest and development of Cambodia,” according to an English translation of the law.
Projects covered by the law include everything from post offices to parking lots to gas and oil pipelines, or any physical infrastructure project “as required by the nation in accordance with the determination made by the government.”
The SRP lawmakers wrote that such broad and unclear definitions “of public and national interests is real ground for arbitrary expropriation by powerful persons or companies with support from the government to make use of the proposed law.”
The opposition party noted the dearth of legal land titles for people with possession rights to their property, as well as problems in the judiciary in its response to the law.
“An inefficient administrative and judicial system and corruption leave victims of land grabs and forced evictions with no fair compensation and no hope for justice,” the SRP said.
Under the new law, property owners would be assured compensation based on “the market price or replacement price on the date of declaration of the expropriation.”
However, the market or replacement price is not defined in the draft, which leaves the determination of a fair price in the hands of an unspecified independent committee or an “agent selected by the Expropriation Committee.”
According to the SRP, that committee should include representatives of civil society, as well as the homeowners facing confiscation of their property.
“Past and current gross violations of the 2001 Land Law bring serious concern on the composition of the ‘independent committee or agent selected by the Expropriation Committee,’” the SRP said.
The opposition party also expressed concern about an article in the draft that would allow an expropriation to be carried out even if a dispute or a complaint made to the Expropriation Committee has yet to be resolved.
“This raises concerns that compensation could be delayed until after the expropriation is completed, and that deprivation occurring in violation of the Constitution could still be effectuated and displace the rightful owners for years before any review is done by the Expropriation and Conflict Resolution committees or a court,” the SRP said.
Housing rights NGOs have submitted their own list of 14 concerns to some lawmakers, specifically requesting that the law cover people with possession rights as well as those with legal title, and that the punishment for officials who abuse the expropriation law is serious enough to prevent land-grabbing, among other suggestions.
Earlier this week, Assembly Vice President Nguon Nhel said that lawmakers had received suggestions from housing rights NGOs, but added that the Assembly was unlikely to adopt the majority of the suggested changes.
According to Mr Nhel, any legislation requiring more than 10 changes must be sent back to the government for re-drafting. “This would be in opposition to the government’s principle, in which the government wants to speed up the process of the law,” he said of the reason to limit changes to the draft.
CPP lawmakers have said that anyone who misuses the expropriation law will be prosecuted under the long-anticipated, but not yet passed, anticorruption law.