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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Taking a local look at land-titling

Taking a local look at land-titling

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Chuon Rom (left) and Y Em stand beside the railway near their house in Stung Hav district, Preah Sihanouk province. An expansion of the railway could force the couple from their house by the end of the year. Stung Hav has been excluded from the government’s land-titling effort.

A week after the government decided to cut World Bank funding of a land-titling programme, investigation reveals its successes have been mixed with failures in securing families'claims.

Many poor people, in both urban and rural areas, have been denied access to the formal tenure system....

Preah Sihanouk Province
ALITTLE-used strip of railway in Otres commune, Stung Hav district, is currently a bigger nuisance for motorists driving over it than for the families living next to it, but that could change later this year if the Ministry of Public Works and Transport goes through with a railway upgrade that officials say will displace dozens of families in the commune, none of whom have land titles.

Y Em and Chuon Rom, who built their first home next to the railway in 1979, three years after they married, said their efforts to acquire a title had been blocked by prohibitively high fees and other barriers, even after the local Department of Land Management, Urban Planning, Construction and Cadastre launched a World Bank-funded titling programme in 2004.

Chuon Rom said she did not know what the couple and their six sons and daughters would do if they were forced to move.

"We want to stay here because the trees we've planted are still growing," said the 56-year-old, referring to the mango and banana trees that dot their property.

Stung Hav is one of two districts in Preah Sihanouk province that have been excluded from the Land Management and Administration Project (LMAP), which has issued titles for 22,250 parcels of land province-wide, according to figures provided by So Sok, director of the local land management department.

The Council of Ministers decided on September 4 to cease World Bank financing of the programme, which was first provided in 2002. In a statement dated September 6, the World Bank cited an inability to reach agreement "on whether LMAP's social and environmental safeguards should apply" in some disputed urban areas.

Nearly 1 million titles have been issued in 14 provinces under LMAP. Though officials have said they will continue with titling efforts, residents and rights workers in Preah Sihanouk say they have less faith in LMAP's ability to help families facing eviction now that the World Bank has pulled out.

"Even though the government will continue with the programme, people don't trust the authorities as much as they trust the World Bank," said Bun Narith, provincial coordinator for the rights group Licadho. "People would be happier if the World Bank were involved."

But others who have criticised the programme said the World Bank's involvement had not translated into substantive assistance for poor Cambodians living on coveted land.

"Many poor people, in both urban and rural areas, have been denied access to the formal tenure system established by LMAP because they have the misfortune to live on desirable real estate or in the path of land concessions," said David Pred, director of Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia.

"These people are arguably more vulnerable to displacement today because of the degradation of the informal system and their exclusion from the formal system," he added.

Stung Hav displacement
Chey Visuon, deputy governor of Stung Hav district, said the 3.5-metre-wide railway track that abuts Village 2, where Y Em and Chuon Rom live, would become 30 metres wide as a result of the planned upgrade.

Khieu Vuthy, deputy chief of Village 2, said the upgrade would displace 36 of the more than 100 families living close to the tracks.

"These people have been here for a long time," said Khieu Vuthy, who moved there in 1980. "We assumed the authorities would provide us with a title at some point, but it never happened."

Like other residents, Khieu Vuthy said he was approached by local officials in the early 1990s and encouraged to secure a land title but couldn't afford the US$25 fee. He said he went to discuss titling with the authorities when he first heard of the railway upgrade plans last year but was told LMAP was not covering the district.

Others said they had been told recently that they could secure titles if they paid up to $250.

Asked about the residents' claims, So Sok said: "The under-the-table black money, I don't know about that, but we follow the rules and procedures." Families receiving land titles paid nominal fees that rarely amounted to more than $5 based on the size of their parcels, he said, adding that the 36 families were living on state land and thus needed to be evicted in accordance with the 2001 Land Law.

So Sok also pointed to what he described as the successes of the LMAP programme, which issued titles in Preah Sihanouk province for 9,150 parcels of land in urban areas and 13,100 in rural areas.

Nou Srey Nea, 30, owns one of the urban parcels that was titled. She said her family, which moved to Village 2 in Sihanoukvile's Mittapheap district in 1980, had never been threatened with eviction but nevertheless appreciated the security that came with the title, which was issued in 2005.

"It's good because it will be very easy for me to sell it," she said, "and now that I have a land title I know no one will try to take it from me."

The titling effort in preah sihanouk

  • 2002: The World Bank begins providing funding for the Land Management and Administration Project (LMAP), designed to assist the government in implementing its land policy as well as to develop conflict-resolution mechanisms and promote land-titling and registration.
  • 2004: Officials at the Department of Land Management, Urban Planning, Construction and Cadastre begin implementing LMAP in Preah Sihanouk province, one of 14 provinces where LMAP has been introduced, according to the World Bank.
  • July 15, 2009: The World Bank sends its review of the programme to the government. The review cites "undisputed benefits" - including the titling and registration of nearly a million parcels in undisputed rural areas - but notes the continued "insecurity of land tenure for the poor, especially in urban areas, and for indigenous people". A total of 22,250 parcels have been titled under the programme in Preah Sihanouk.
  • September 4, 2009: The Council of Ministers decides to cease World Bank funding of the programme and go ahead with titling efforts on its own.
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