The World Bank’s inspection panel will investigate a $24.3 million land titling program in Cambodia accused of denying titles to residents at the heart of a land dispute affecting as many as 4,000 families in the capital.
In an announcement on its website, the panel, an independent accountability office of the Bank, said it would review complaint submitted in September by residents at Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak lake. Residents said that the Bank’s Land Management and Administration Project left them powerless in the development of the lake, which is being filled in as part of a large-scale real estate development by the company Shukaku.
The nationwide land titling program was canceled in September when the Bank reached an impasse with the government on the program’s failure to issue land titles to the urban poor. Under a 2002 agreement with the bank, people living on state land are entitled to protection against forced eviction and compensation if they are resettled.
That month, a group of Boeng Kak residents filed a formal complaint with the World Bank’s inspection panel in Washington asking that it investigate the program, which they claimed had selectively discriminated against their right to receive titles to land around the lake.
“In order to make an independent assessment of management’s compliance with
Bank policies and procedures…the panel would need to conduct an appropriate review of all relevant facts and applicable policies and procedures,” the panel wrote in a March 31 recommendation on its website yesterday. “This can only be done in the context of an investigation of the issues of compliance and harm raised by the request.”
“[T]he panel recommends that the board of executive directors approves an investigation of the claims and matters raised by the request for inspection.”
According to the website, the Bank’s board accepted the recommendation April 13. It makes no mention of when the investigation would begin or how long it would last, however.
The World Bank inspection panel four months ago said the Boeng Kak lake community’s complaint was eligible for consideration. In a Dec 7 reply to the request, however, it recommended postponing a decision on whether to investigate to give the Bank’s country team in Cambodia another chance to work out its differences with the government.
In the April 13 recommendation to the Bank’s executive board, the panel said that the Cambodia team’s efforts were unsuccessful.
“The panel welcomes the progress made by Bank management to build an important dialogue with the government of Cambodia,” the panel ruling states.
“The panel notes, however, that the actions proposed in the management response were not implemented in a way that could satisfactorily address the requestors’ concerns.”
A World Bank representative in Phnom Penh was not immediately reached yesterday evening.
Nonn Theany, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Land Management, said the government had no interest in the World Bank’s decisions regarding LMAP.
“There is no problem. It is in the past. It is their internal issue,” she said, blaming the Bank for LMAP’s abrupt ending.
“The government doesn’t understand how they work,” she said. “It had been smooth since the beginning. Then at the last moment they changed it.”
Ms Theany also accused the Bank of making the titling of land a political issue.
“The World Bank seems to put itself into politics rather than technique,” she said.
Soon after ending LMAP, Prime Minister Hun Sen said the Bank had been too “bossy,” demanding “complicated conditions” to continue funding the project.
Despite issuing more than 1.1 million titles since LMAP’s 2002 inception, the Bank’s country team has admitted knowledge of major flaws in the program since 2004, including requests for bribes in return for issuing land titles.
In it’s December reply to the Boeng Kak lake community’s complaint, the country team admitted to missing several opportunities to reform the program and eventually redirecting LMAP to focus primarily on its more successful components, like its one-million-title goal.
In December, David Pred, country director for the housing rights organization Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia, said an investigation of LMAP was crucial.
“It is very important that the inspection panel conducts a full investigation into the deep-seated problems with LMAP so that this will go on the record and the World Bank will hopefully learn some important lessons about the titling programs that it promotes throughout the developing world,” he said at the time.