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World Bank to launch probe of land project

A DELEGATION from the World Bank Inspection Panel has arrived in Cambodia to investigate a controversial World Bank-funded government land-titling programme, housing rights advocates said Thursday.

Neup Ly, a community empowerment officer at the Housing Rights Task Force (HRTF), said the investigation would start Sunday.

The team “plans to meet with the people who were subject to [the programme] and some others, including people in the Boeung Kak area, who have had problems with this project”, he said.

In September, residents from the city’s Boeung Kak lake area filed a complaint with the panel, alleging that the World Bank failed to adequately supervise the government’s US$38.4 million Land Management and Administration Project (LMAP).

LMAP was launched in 2002 with the aim of creating an “efficient and transparent” national land administration system within five years.

Boeung Kak residents say LMAP prevented them from obtaining land titles that are their legal right under the Kingdom’s 2001 Land Law. More than 4,000 families now face eviction from the area to make way for a controversial 133-hectare development.

The government terminated its LMAP partnership with the World Bank in September. At the time, Prime Minister Hun Sen said the organisation had set “too many conditions”.

Credibility on the line
Some said the investigation could mark a watershed in the World Bank’s engagement with Cambodia. “It can be good for [the World Bank], the next time they want to support the government,” said Sia Phearum, the HRTF’s secretariat director.

However, one official said the investigation was pointless, since the LMAP partnership had already been terminated.

“They can do this but not if their investigation affects other investors or the development of Cambodia,” said Tith Sothea of the Council of Ministers’ Press and Quick Reaction Unit.

He said the government welcomed all international organisations that wished to help Cambodia, but warned that they should not “catch my hand and step on my foot”.

David Pred, executive director of Bridges Across Borders Cambodia, said the accountability of the World Bank would be “on the line” during the course of the investigation.

“I sincerely hope that this investigation sheds some light on the flaws in the design and implementation of LMAP that led many vulnerable households to be excluded from titling, making them more vulnerable to land-grabbing,” he said.

He added that if the government refuses to cooperate with the World Bank on the issue, the organisation should pay reparations “directly to the affected people”.

Ing Navy, who lives in Boeung Kak’s Village 24, said the investigation could bolster the her faith in the World Bank.

“We were hopeful again when we knew that the World Bank was sending their inspectors from Washington DC to Cambodia,” she said.

World Bank officials in Phnom Penh could not be reached Thursday.

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