City says it aims to legalise land holdings and improve infrastructure at the lake, but local residents say it simply forces them to buy land they've already lived on for decades
Residents of Phnom Penh's Boeung Tompun lake bail out their boat last week.
MEANWHILE, AT anOTHER Phnom Penh LAKE ...
Phnom Penh Municipal Court Monday refused to issue an injunction to halt the filling of Boeung Kak lake, despite continuing protests against the lakeside development. Choung Choungy, the lawyer who filed the request on behalf of villagers facing eviction from their lakeside homes, rejected the court’s judgment and said he would continue to fight the case. “We are angry with this rejection. I think that the municipality will try its best to fill the lake even though the people have been protesting against it,” he said, referring to the 4,000 families who are expected to make way for a 133-hectare housing and commercial development. “Even though we have no faith in the courts, we will still lodge complaints with them, because we want to see the municipal court find justice for the poor,” he said. “I regret that the government has not solved the problem for them, but if we lose the case, we will sue again until the people can get suitable payment [for their land],” he said.
MOM KUNTHEAR AND KHOUN LEAKHANA
A NEW initiative by the city aims to assist residents at Phnom Penh's Boeung Tompun lake to legalise their land holdings by helping to fund local infrastructure projects, Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Pa Socheatvong told reporters last week.
"We will legalise land possessions, but residents will have to pay the government to develop infrastructure in the area," he said.
Infrastructure improvements will include new drainage systems, gardens, schools and hospitals for lake residents, he added.
The scheme would require residents to pay a percentage of the value of their land, as determined by the government. If residents decline to pay, they will have the option of selling the land back to the government, Pa Socheatvong said.
Land or money?
The deputy governor said if a resident's land was valued at US$300,000, for example, the government would charge $30,000 for a legal title.
If the resident disputed the land valuation and said it was only worth $200,000, the government would buy back the land at that price.
"We will set the lowest price possible for them, but if they can't pay we will purchase the land," he said.
The Boeung Tompun lake area, the capital's largest natural sewage water holding site, covers nearly 2,600 hectares of land, including 520 hectares of surface water, in Meanchey district.
About 200 families live on the lake, while many others have purchased plots on or near the lake for resale.
Pa Socheatvong said the government owns the land but wants to develop the area and improve living conditions for residents, none of whom currently possesses legal land titles.
He said the land initiative will follow three guidelines. First, residents must forfeit a portion of their land to support infrastructure projects for the benefit of all residents.
Second, they must pay a fee to obtain their land titles. The fees will be used by the government to pay for infrastructure projects.
Third, residents must have their land surveyed and apportioned into standardised plots.
"We hope the government will approve these principles for development of the area by the end of this year," Pa Socheatvong said.
He added that land valuation prices have not yet been decided but would be determined based on estimated costs of infrastructure projects.
Residents of Boeung Tompun greeted news of the initiative with scepticism.
"I don't support this development plan because it forces us to buy back our own land," Kong Buntheoun, 45, told the Post Monday.
FORCING PEOPLE TO BUY LAND THEY ALREADY POSSESS IS THE WORST KIND OF TRICK, AND WE MUST OPPOSE THIS INITIATIVE VIGOROUSLY.
Kong Buntheoun, who has lived on the lake since 1979, said she would consider selling if the government offered a high enough price.
Deputy governor of Phnom Penh Pa Socheatvong in his office on Monday.
"If they want to buy my land, they should come now and buy it. I will happily sell, but only at a high price," she said.
She acknowledged that residents don't have legal land titles but said no one could afford to pay for them.
Men Siteun, 55, lives near the lake and sells groceries to support her three children.
"I have lived here since 1990, but I don't have enough money to buy my land. I have 850 square metres, and even if the government sets a low price, I don't know where I would find the money to pay. I earn only US$2.50 each day," she said.
"Sometimes, I can't even afford to pay school fees for my children," she said. "Maybe I will sell in order to support their studies."
She added that she would never have supported local officials in the last election if the initiative had been announced earlier.
She said if the government did not offer a fair price to buy her land, she would complain to the courts.
Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian Son Chhay said the initiative was simply a way for the government to steal money from lake residents.
"It is outrageous that residents would be forced to pay for land they have lived on for years," he said.
He said if the government wants to develop the area, they should appeal to residents to contribute to the cost of projects, not force them to pay for their land.
"Lake residents are very poor, so they don't have the money to pay for land titles," Son Chhay said. "If the government wants to improve people's lives with land titles, they should release the titles to residents without charge."
Son Chhay dismissed the Boeung Tompun housing initiative as little more than a government effort to get people to leave their land. If they can't pay, the government buys them out at a cheap price and sells the land to private development companies, he said.
"Forcing people to buy land they already possess is the worst kind of trick, and we must oppose this initiative vigorously," he said.