IN the first major public display of an attempt to solve one of the most pressing
problems facing the bulk of Cambodia's population, a land title deeds registration
display ceremony was held on Aug 8 in Srey Ta Sok village in Takeo Province.
Under the direction of the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction
(MoLUC), 111 family representatives were allowed to review title deeds for 566 separate
plots of land, a process, according to villagers and officials, that will protect
their legal property rights and avoid land grabs or disputes in the future.
"I think that getting land title deeds will reduce disputes or land grabbing,
but it also gives us confidence and a warm feeling to hold pieces of land that no
one can take from us," said Yin Norn, 47, one of the villagers who participated
in the event.
The ceremony was presided over by the Minister to the Council of Ministers, Sok An,
who said reducing land disputes would help encourage more foreign investment into
Minister Im Chhun Lim, speaking to the assembled villagers and after thanking the
German and Finnish governments for their support for the project, said his ministry
had undertaken a variety of steps in leading up to the day's ceremony, which included
the systematic production of cadastral maps (defining boundaries and land ownership),
a review of existing land registration papers and the registration of owners' proper
names. Three separate teams from MoLUC and been working with villagers to undertake
Starting from Aug 8, according to Chhun Lim, villagers would have one month "to
participate in the survey and verification and to make counterclaims in case of finding
a certain parcel data are not clear or incomplete."
Chhun Lim called on all concerned citizens to check the maps and land register, saying
his staff would be available for one month, even on holidays, to receive any claims
and to try to resolve any disputes by mediation and mutual agreement. Any unresolved
claims would be sent to a court for ajudication.
Srey Ta Tok village chief Sin Sokly was especially pleased to note that the villagers
didn't have to pay even one riel to the land title deeds officers who had come to
publicize the papers.
Still, many villagers were concerned about the related issue of taxes on land.
"Do you know if they will ask us to pay land taxes like before," Neak Lay,
a villager from Dom Nak Troyoeung village asked the Post.
Yin Norn said that during the 1998 election campaign politicians, especially those
from the CPP, had said that if they won they would not demand taxes on land used
for agircultural purposes.
Nong Me, 65, from Kvao village, was also concerned. "Usually if they make land
title deeds they will demand taxes from us. That was the situation during the French
colonial time and even during the Sihanouk time," he said.
"We live under the Government. We respect the Government policy, but if they
demand too much it will affect our livelihoods."
Speaking in Phnom Penh, Ang Eng Tong, president of the Cambodian Bar Association,
while applauding the recent move to settle land disputes, said the tax issue was
a delicate one.
"Taxation should be appropriate, like pulling feathers from a goose carefully
so that it doesn't cry," Eng Thong said.
Sok An, for his part, confirmed that the within the current Government policy, land
used for agriculture purposes would not be taxed.
In the meantime, thousands of Cambodians are still struggling with land problems.
Officials at Legal Aid for Cambodia (LAC) say the existing land-related caseload
is around 15,000 and growing. From January to June this year LAC says its own organization
has received 220 complaints.
Thus, while the Government seems to have got the ball rolling on tackling the land
problem, solving disputes and issuing proper land registration papers nationwide
remains an enormous undertaking.
Sok An said at the ceremony that the Government would need $100 million to complete
land title processing.