he National Assembly has managed to pass the first law of its current session -
the bill on urbanization and construction- before going into recess again during
the peace talks in Pyongyang.
The urbanization law seeks to regularize
construction across the country by setting up a uniform approval system.
Committees will be set up in each province and in Phnom Penh to approve every
new building in the area, and there will be a national committee to oversee
them. The committees will also draft master plans to develop their own
The law was earlier criticized for being too vague and for
the fact that there is no protection or compensation for people who are evicted
from land earmarked for development. Observers also commented that it would be
difficult to implement the law without a land law to clear confusion over land
Despite a nearly four days of debate, very little of the
government's draft law was actually amended. While the debate was lengthy,
criticism came from the same vocal few MPs and the amendments they moved were
nearly all outvoted.
"Members seemed ready to accept verbal assurances
from Minister Van Mouly Vann that there would be no abuses, they would not
insist that it be made clear in the law itself," says BLDP MP Son Chai, one of
the most vocal opponents to parts of the bill.
He says the vagueness and
loopholes will "only make it easier for people on the committees to take
One MP says that most members were unaware of the details of the
law, and wanted it passed quickly so that "more important laws could be
Though the debates extended late into the evening, members
had to wait for more than an hour on two occasions because there was not a
The few amendments that were made dealt with procedural issues
like which committees one would have to get permission from and how long the
process should take.
According to the new law, a person wishing to build
a hotel in Siem Reap, for example, would have to approach the provincial
committee with papers relating to the acquisition of land and building plans
certified by an architect.
After that, it will go to the National
Committee and then to the relevant ministry, in this case the Ministry of
Tourism. Each stage could take up to 45 days after all papers are submitted.
Without this, a building could be declared illegal and removed.
members pointed out that the law makes no distinction between commercial and
residential buildings. Poor people wishing to build a small house would be
unaware of the law's requirements, have no proof of land ownership because many
land titles have been destroyed and no access either to an architect or legal
On the last day of the debate, Finance Minister Sam Rainsy
proposed that four new articles be added. They should specify how land ownership
would be determined if there is confusion, assure people of a right to appeal a
government decision to evict them or demolish their houses, ensure that affected
people will be consulted in advance when a development master plan is drawn up
and stipulate that if the government uses private land for public purposes, it
would have to pay the owner of the land.
All the proposals were outvoted.
Says Son Chai: "We have been elected to protect people's interests, but no one
seems willing to do it openly."
The government's response to most queries
was that the issue would be taken care of in the 11 sub-decrees that are to be
issued within two months to implement in detail the general principles of the
law. They will not be debated, only signed and issued by minister Van Mouly
The Assembly then was adjourned until June 6 because many members
were in Pyongyang. However, with the peace talks lasting just one day, it is
unclear at press time when it will meet again.