World Bank Ends Program For Land Titling

The World Bank’s $24.3 million Cambodian land-titling program has been terminated after the bank and the government reached an impasse concerning evictions from disputed land in Phnom Penh, officials said yesterday.

A statement from World Bank Country Director Annette Dixon, released yesterday, said that the Bank’s review of the Land Man­agement and Administration Pro­ject found that the program fell short in issuing land titles to people in poor urban areas where land disputes are frequent.

“We have shared the findings of the review with the government but could not reach an agreement on whe­ther LMAP’s social and environmental safeguards should apply in some of the disputed ur­ban ar­eas,” Ms Dixon said in the statement.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said yesterday that the council made the decision to cancel its contract with the World Bank on Friday morning, but said that he did not know any further details about the resolution.

Minister of Land Management Im Chhun Lim could not be reached for comment yesterday, and ministry spokeswoman Nun Theany said she was not sure why the program was terminated.

According to the World Bank’s social safeguards, set out in a 2002 agreement with the government, people living on land titled to the state are entitled to be protected from involuntary resettlement and fully compensated for any loss of property during an eviction.

The disagreement between the bank and the government concerned looming evictions at Boeng Kak lake, according to Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia Director David Pred, who attended meetings with World Bank representatives last month to review the LMAP program.

The lake area, originally home to about 4,000 families, has been granted to local developer Shukaku Inc—which is owned by a CPP senator and his wife, the head of local conglomerate Pheapimex-and compensation and relocation plans for the community have been protested by villagers and housing rights NGOs.

“The bank had actually offered to help support the government in carrying out a better resettlement process in Boeng Kak,” Mr Pred wrote in an e-mail yesterday. “This offer was unfortunately rejected, and the government appears to have decided that it would rather terminate the LMAP agreement than apply the resettlement policy and protect the rights of its citizens in Boeng Kak.”

World Bank spokesman Bou Saroeun declined yesterday to confirm or deny whether the program was ended over disagreements concerning Boeng Kak. Nor could he provide comment on whether the program has been immediately halted or will continue until the end of the year as originally scheduled.

The World Bank’s review of the LMAP program, released yesterday, said that the project had shown “indisputable benefits in short period,” having already surpassed its goal of issuing 1 million land titles.

“There is, however, a disconnect between institutional, legal and policy achievements and insecurity of land tenure for the poor, especially in urban areas, and for indigenous people,” the report went on to say.

Specifically, “The relevant municipal authority has granted itself the unilateral right to excise portions of lands surveyed [from the program],” the report said.

“In doing so, it has decided not to apply the systematic titling to those excised areas. In addition, for those people affected by the decision to excise land on which they were established…there were no social safeguards.”

Those social safeguards should have included legal assistance in filing claims to their possession of the land, according to the Bank’s report.

Deputy Municipal Governor Pa Socheatvong said he was too busy to speak with a reporter yesterday. Neither Governor Kep Chuktema nor his deputy Mann Chhoeun could be reached for comment.

Dan Nicholson, Asia and Pacific program coordinator for the Center on Housing Rights and Evictions, said yesterday that he was disappointed with the decision.

“It’s a shame that when donors go to the government with concerns about the way the program is implemented, rather than addressing those concerns, the government is simply shutting down the program,” Mr Nicholson said.

However, he added, in some instances, poor urban residents seem to have been passed over for receiving land titles.

“We wouldn’t say that LMAP overall is a failure, but there are particular areas where we’ve seen that LMAP is not improving the authority of tenure for Cambodians vulnerable to eviction,” Mr Nicholson said.

Yeng Virak, executive director of the Community Legal Education Center, described the decision as “sad,” but added that there were definite weaknesses in the LMAP program.

“Areas like [Penh Penh’s] Group 78 or Boeng Kak, they should benefit from the program, but such places like that, it seems that they do not,” he said.

Mr Virak added that, in some ways, the increasing possession of land titles by some Cambodians only served to put those without title in greater danger of eviction.

“Many people managed to have a title. But some people have strong legal claims for title and did not benefit from this…. If they didn’t, it’s easy for the authorities to say you’re illegal. The way the authorities treat them is different.”

Despite those drawbacks, Mr Virak said, “We would never recommend to stop LMAP. We would recommend to improve it in the time remaining or in the next phase.”

        (Additional reporting by Neou Vannarin)

 

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