bati district, Takeo province – Sitting under a pavilion on the grounds of a pagoda in Trapang Sab commune Wednesday morning, Sok Son and more than 100 other villagers listened intently as an official from the Ministry of Land Management explained how they could obtain a land title.
“What is good for me is that I am the guaranteed owner of the land, so I can keep it as future property for my children,” Sok Son, 52, a mother of three, said after the meeting.
Her comments echoed those of other villagers, who are now about two months away from receiving land titles, something most Cambodians have lacked since the Khmer Rouge abolished private property rights and destroyed all land maps, titles and other records in the late 1970s. A government registration system is under way in eight provinces and is scheduled to begin in three others in two months.
About 170,000 parcels of land have been registered so far, and roughly 80,000 land titles have been distributed.
“This is probably the most transparent system in the country,” Jouni Anttonen, a land registration adviser for Finnmap International, a Finland-based company working to implement the land registration and title system, said Wednesday.
Two forms of land registration exist: Systematic registration and sporadic registration. Systematic registration is the massive government-sponsored project to register all land parcels in the country. Sporadic registration is done when an individual land owner requests a title for his or her property, and is therefore more expensive.
Problems with the sporadic registration system arose recently when the government lowered the land registration fee, against the will of the donors for the land project. “When the fee is small, under-the-table fees increase,” Anttonen said, adding that the government is revising the sporadic registration fee structure.
By contrast, Anttonen said, the systematic land registration system has run smoothly. Under systematic land registration, provincial officials choose an area to parcel into plots of land. Villagers are told to gather up all relevant documents they may have to prove their ownership of the land.
Local officials then meet the villager and their neighbors, and they all agree on the land boundaries. The villager then completes a form that includes a description of the land parcel, any documentation supporting his claim to the land and identification of the owner.
Once data for all the villagers has been collected, digital maps of the village are drawn up and a meeting is held, where the data is presented. After the meeting, villagers have 30 days to change the information or dispute it. Afterward, the land is officially registered and titles are distributed. To ensure a transparent process, government officials are required to publicly disclose their land holdings. Land titles cost 1 riel per square meter of land, a price many in Takeo were willing to pay for the title, which can be used as collateral when applying for a bank loan.
“It is very, very cheap,” said Suon Sopha, deputy director of the land management and administration project for the Ministry of Land Management. “We cannot give [the land title] away for nothing or people might not take care of it,” he said.