World Bank Gives Social Land Concession Project High Marks

The World Bank has released a glowing assessment of the first phase of a project helping poor Cambodians acquire land and whose second phase, if approved, would end the bank’s current freeze on new lending to the country.

The bank started the $11.5-million project in 2008 with the aim of resettling more than 3,000 poor and mostly landless Cambodians inside eight government-approved social land concessions (SLCs). The work is expected to be finished by March, more than 1 1/2 years later than originally planned.

Despite the delay, a status report released online by the bank Wednesday gives the project high marks.

“The project had continued good and steady progress toward achieving the [project development objective],” it says. “The activities and accomplishments have provided good lessons learned for the identification, development and sustainability of future SLC sites.”

The report said the bank has selected 3,148 people to be settled inside the SLCs, 4 percent more than planned, and that just over half of them have moved onto the concessions already. It adds that a random survey of 50 of the resettled families found that their average gross annual income rose from $470 in 2011 to $2,300.

But the report also notes that none of the more than 10,000 hectares secured for the project came from canceled economic land concessions—usually taken away from private companies who fail to meet the obligations of their contracts—as was hoped. It notes, too, that some of the infrastructure projects planned to serve the SLCs, mainly roads, had to be canceled because of rising building costs.

The project was approved before the World Bank imposed a freeze on all new lending to Cambodia in 2011 in protest at the government’s forced eviction of some 3,000 families from Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak neighborhood.

Though the freeze remains in effect, the bank announced in August that it was contemplating a $25-million second phase to the SLC project that would improve roads, schools and medical clinics at 15 SLCs across the country.

If approved, the second phase would end the funding freeze. But rights groups and anti-eviction activists are urging the bank not to lift the freeze until the families that were evicted from Boeng Kak are fairly compensated.

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