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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - City planning bill said to threaten poor

City planning bill said to threaten poor

A MOVE to regulate the building spree across the country, with a new

Urbanization and Construction Law could hit the poor hard, according to a legal

expert. The law was being debated in the National Assembly as the Post went to

press.

It was drafted by famed architect and Council of Ministers member

Van Mouly Van will set up a special National Committee and similar bodies at

provincial levels. The committee will have the power to grant or withhold

permission to construct dwellings and also potentially the power to remove

buildings deemed 'illegal'.

These bodies will also draw up 'master-plans'

to develop the areas under their jurisdiction and impose some order on the

chaotic construction work currently being undertaken.

A legal expert who

requested anonymity said: "The law requires any construction or even

modification of a building to be approved by a committee and accompanied by

detailed drawings, title deeds and an architect's approval - otherwise the

building could be labeled illegal and removed.

"Squatters and other poor

urban dwellers rarely possess proof of land ownership in the form of titles or

letters - which were usually obtained by bribing the relevant SOC officials.

"They have little access to detailed drawings or architects and no means

of redress against the removal of their houses, they would probably be the worst

affected by the new law."

He added: "Master plans are an outdated idea

and the people affected usually have no say in what is going to happen to them.

"There is a need to move carefully after the experiences in countries

like Malaysia and Indonesia where people who got in the way of 'master plans'

were evicted without redress ."

However construction companies are

welcoming the new law which attempts to centralize the planning authorities'

powers.

They say that under existing procedures there is a need to get

permission to build from several different planning authorities which increases

paperwork and the possibility of bribery.

But there is also confusion

about the legality of the new law which attempts to govern land-use because it

is based on the earlier October 1992 SOC land law which does not recognize

private ownership of land. Article 1 of the SOC law states the government owns

all land though Cambodians can use and bequeath it.

"If we go by the SOC

law, this new land-use law cannot exist because no one owns land in the first

place," says Son Chhay, Chairman of the Assembly's Commission on Education,

Culture, Religious Affairs and Tourism. Legal observers point out the law

logically should have come after a new comprehensive land titles law had been

passed because presently there is enormous confusion over the legality of

private land titles.

Chhay also says the law attempts to cover a too wide

an area and is therefore not precise enough. He said: "It even has provisions on

archaeological excavations."

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