Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Land titling program should help poor

Land titling program should help poor

Land titling program should help poor

Many Cambodians will be able to own property for the first time since the Khmer

Rouge eliminated all land titles in the 1970s. A five-year project will begin in

June and aims to issue secure land tenure for one million people.

The

bulk of the cost will be funded by the World Bank under a $24.3 million soft

loan. The nationwide project will attempt to introduce a fair system of land

registration to help the poor in Phnom Penh and ten other provinces. Property

ownership is considered a crucial part of the overall rehabilitation of

Cambodia.

"There will be many, many opportunities for money-making as a

direct result of having a full freehold title," said Peter Swan from UN-Habitat

at an April 10 workshop on providing secure tenure for the urban

poor.

One concern was whether the practice could make vulnerable

low-income Cambodians worse off. Recent attempts by the city's municipality to

provide land outside the city to those affected by Phnom Penh's squatter fires

met heavy criticism, after the inhabitants were removed from the area they lived

in for years. That meant they lost not only their homes, but often their jobs

and access to basic services.

"The poor have very rational reasons for

wanting to live in urban, built-up areas," said Geoffrey Payne of the UK's

Department for International Development (DfID). Chief among these were the

ability to earn a living, access to health, and schooling.

Issuing land

is meant to give low-income people collateral, improve the urban environment and

attract investment. However a DfID study presented at the workshop refuted the

notion that giving land on the city's periphery to the poor was good

practice.

"Our research shows that, unfortunately, this approach is not

addressing the needs of the city, or the needs of the poor as they themselves

see them," said Payne.

As part of the research his team interviewed 700

households in two weeks. The study found that relocation not only increases

poverty, it also deprives the city of a workforce that provides essential

services in hotels, the leisure industry and transportation. All of these are

important to attract tourists and their cash, a major priority for the

government.

The study also found that few of the relocated urban poor

were using their land as collateral; a significant number had in fact moved back

to the city. A better solution that had worked elsewhere, DfID suggested, might

be to grant temporary leases that would also give the authorities time to

develop better alternatives while the city expands.

"Internationally, the

poor are quite happy to accept temporary titles," said

Payne.

UN-Habitat's Swan agreed that it was important to give land tenure

to people in the places they had lived until they chose to move

elsewhere.

"Land and housing is fundamentally a socio-economic issue,"

said Swan. "It [just] looks like a spatial and physical issue."

The chief

of the municipality's cabinet, Mann Chhoeun, said the authority had decided to

change its squatter relocation strategy.

"In the future, we will start

land sharing at the Boeung Kak area [a lake in Phnom Penh] instead of relocating

the squatters," he said. "We may let them stay on the site and allow them to

build."

However, those displaced by the recent rooftop fire and earlier

riverside fires, said Chhoeun, would not be allowed to return. A new Khmer-style

roof is planned for the rooftop, while a public park will replace the remains of

the Bassac community.

Swan added that while the issues raised by the DfID

study were important, one aspect of the municipal policy was

laudable.

"In the 25 to 30 years that I've been working in this region, I

haven't seen too many municipalities that were willing to provide land to people

who were being removed from various locations," he said.

The workshop

also agreed that a strong campaign was needed to raise awareness among the poor

about the prospects of land titling. What was also required was further auditing

of land, since even many professionals were unsure whether land was private or

public.

"I suggest that after the workshop, let us find out the zoning

for Phnom Penh," said Chhoeun. "That will be useful to divide the areas into

trading zones and accommodation areas."

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