World Bank Gets Closer to Lifting Five-Year-Long Freeze on Lending

The World Bank has reached the appraisal stage of a proposed project to furnish poor families with new land, moving it another step closer to ending a five-year lending freeze on Cambodia by March.

The project would expand on work the Bank started in 2008 to set up eight social land concessions (SLCs) across the country with the aim of turning some 3,000 poor families into titled landowners with their own small farms.

A project report posted to the Bank’s website last week shows that plans for a second phase have moved from the concept stage to appraisal and that board approval is expected in mid-March.

If approved, the $27 million project would effectively lift a freeze on new lending the Bank imposed on Cambodia in early 2011 in protest over a Bank-funded land titling project that was being abused by the government. In August of that year, the Bank said it would not lift the freeze until the government and residents of Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak neighborhood—evicted en masse for a CPP senator’s real estate project—reached an agreement, a condition that has yet to be met.

The SLC project now under appraisal has faced problems as well.

In June, rights group Licadho released a damning review of the first phase of the project, which had wrapped up three months earlier. It found major problems at all but one of the eight sites, including sandy soil unsuited for farming, plots covered in dense forests that the recipient families were too poor to clear, other plots claimed by neighboring communities and promised infrastructure projects that did not arrive.

The Bank has ignored repeated requests for comment on Licadho’s assessment of the project. The Ministry of Land Management, the Bank’s partner on the project, has dismissed the rights group’s report as ill-informed.

According to the project report the Bank released last week, the second phase would both expand on the first and improve the existing sites, by adding infrastructure, for example, and providing families with more support to make their new farms viable.

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