The government’s land-titling scheme has been marked by serious flaws and left many people and their lands vulnerable to exploitation and corruption, the NGO Forum on Cambodia said yesterday.
In 2012 the government issued “Directive 01” to audit economic land concessions (ELCs), and between June 2012 and December last year officials and volunteers reclassified nearly 1.2 million hectares of land and issued 610,000 land titles.
A report by NGO Forum released yesterday titled Old Policy for New Activity: the implementation and effects of directive 01, explains that the moratorium helped accelerate the process of measuring land and made land titles widely available.
However, it also found that the directive created a bottleneck effect, negatively affected indigenous communities and ignored many groups embroiled in land disputes.
“This study is [intended] to fill in the gaps in the lack of information regarding the implementation of Directive 01 and evaluate the main criticism of the campaign,” Tek Vannara, executive director of NGO Forum, said.
Researchers interviewed 480 families in six provinces in addition to government officials and village chiefs. Over 60 per cent of villagers whose land was thoroughly surveyed reported they felt secure and empowered by receiving land titles, but those whose land was only partially surveyed, or overlooked entirely, expressed “serious frustration” and felt less secure.
The report found there was confusion on the part of local officials about the purpose of Directive 01. While some said they believed it was intended to benefit villagers, others said it was intended to influence voters in the 2013 election.
“I do not know what was behind it. It was the national policy that we have to follow,” explained a Ratanakkiri village chief quoted in the report.
The implementation of the directive encouraged corruption and a lack of transparency, it found. A discrepancy of 100,000 hectares in figures reported to the National Assembly by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forests and Fisheries in 2014 was also highlighted.
Word-of-mouth complaints indicated that payoffs had been made by wealthy landowners to government officials, but the report concluded that few people felt able to speak openly about the practice.
A representative of the Suoy ethnic minority in Kampong Speu province, Ven Sameun, said that the directive had encouraged the people to apply for land titles, and that while this practice was successful on the national level, on the local level it caused villagers in his district to suffer and lose their community forest.
Vannara of NGO Forum also said that land titles might leave villagers vulnerable to racking up debts.
“They use the land title to borrow money for a loan and some people fall into debt,” he said.
The report concludes that the government must do more to help audit all ELCs and speed up the process of converting private land into communal land titles.
It also called for better protection of Cambodia’s forests, which have seen rapid declines since 1975 due to aggressive – and often illegal – logging on an industrial scale.
Suon Sopha, deputy director of Land Management and Geography at the Ministry of Land Management, said while the scheme was not perfect, the directive had helped solve many problems in disputed areas.
“The royal government is unwaveringly conscientious about solving this problem for the people,” he said.