BOEUNG Kak lakeside residents have filed a formal complaint to the World Bank’s inspection panel in Washington, claiming that a land-titling project has undermined their tenure rights and failed to protect them from forced eviction.
The complaint, registered on September 24, alleges the World Bank breached its operational policies by failing to adequately supervise the government’s US$38.4 million Land Management and Administration Project (LMAP).
The project, funded by the World Bank and other international donors, was launched in 2002 to create an “efficient and transparent land administration system” in Cambodia within five years, but residents say a lack of oversight has increased tenure insecurity in the area.
“The World Bank failed to monitor its assistance while many poor people were evicted from the city to the outskirts,” said Be Pharom, a resident of Boeung Kak’s Village 22.
More than 4,000 families at Boeung Kak lake are set to make way for a 133-hectare commercial and housing project planned by local developer Shukaku Inc, which is filling the lake with sand.
Be Pharom said many residents, despite having lived in the area since the Pol Pot regime fell in 1979, were denied land titles under LMAP.
“I have no hope that the World Bank can do anything to help us.… But our complaint is just a message to the World Bank to wake up and open its eyes,” he said.
Too little, too late
In February and April, the World Bank despatched special missions to review LMAP’s implementation, but the complaint, cited on the body’s Web site, says that recent efforts have “in no way” mitigated the harm caused by seven years of “inadequate supervision”.
Housing rights advocates said the complaint could set an important precedent despite the government’s termination of its contract with the World Bank last month.
“This investigation is very important, not just for the people in Boeung Kak and throughout the country who have been harmed by the World Bank’s failure to adequately supervise this project, but for the issue of donor and government accountability more broadly,” David Pred, director of rights group Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia.
“If the government is unwilling to live up to its end of the bargain, then there needs to be a serious reassessment of the way donors engage in Cambodia.”
Natalie Bugalski, a legal officer with the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, said the inspection panel investigation came at a “critical” juncture for the land sector and could facilitate productive reforms.
“The World Bank and other development partners cannot in good faith continue with ‘business as usual’ under these circumstances,” she said.
Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun could not comment on the complaint but said the government’s housing policy had improved the lives of many poor Cambodians.
“We cannot satisfy people 100 percent, but I hope that the housing policy will improve and become more effective in the future,” he said.
World Bank management has until October 15 to respond to the complaint, after which it has 21 days to prepare its recommendations to the board on whether or not to proceed with an investigation.