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Urban poor more likely to lack titles: report

A man tends to his shop last year near Phnom Penh International Airport
A man tends to his shop last year near Phnom Penh International Airport, where residents are to be evicted and houses destroyed. Pha Lina

Urban poor more likely to lack titles: report

Cambodia's land-titling review process lacks transparency and clarity and is in danger of leaving behind Phnom Penh’s urban poor, according to a new report.

Since the Systematic Land Registration (SLR) program was established in 2002, the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction has granted about 3 million land titles, Ministry Land Administration Director Suon Sopha said at the report’s unveiling in the capital yesterday. Most of those titles, however, have been granted in rural areas.

In Phnom Penh, many urban poor communities (UPCs) located in areas where land is valued at significantly higher rates, and therefore more likely to be contested, remain absent from the registry, the report, commissioned by the NGO Forum of Cambodia and World Vision, found.

“We’re seeking to understand the reason for the exclusion of these UPCs and the impact it has on the people,” said NGO Forum research officer Sao Vicheka.

Half of the 60 households residing in the 12 poor communities surveyed for the study had not been informed of the official reason for their exclusion – the fact that their homes sit on public land and have never been properly registered.

“I want to clarify that the reason for this is because they are residing in public land,” Sopha said. “They could apply to register their lands . . . but as of today, I have not received any request forms from the communities.”

Only 14 of the households surveyed possess soft titles, while the rest have insufficient or no proof of land possession whatsoever and only a vague knowledge of how to register their land.

“The people we spoke to in the communities, and even some of the local officials, obviously didn’t know what was going on, how to get a land title and the legal requirements required,” said researcher Brigitte Bouhours, who was consulted for the report.

Lack of proper land-titling has created a litany of adverse impacts on residents living in UPCs.

Forty-eight per cent of respondents said they are fearful of eviction, while 10 per cent feel they are “living in limbo” and are experiencing difficulty planning for the future.

According to some residents, the lack of a formal title has also led to difficulties in borrowing money from banks and selling their properties at market rates.

Establishing precisely what problems those in UPCs face is only the first step, however, researchers said yesterday.

“These are our findings so far, and in the future, we want to develop a solution on how to help the poor communities on these lands,” Vicheka said. “But this is the first step.”

The Land Management Ministry is currently in discussion with stakeholders regarding ways to improve the land registry’s adjudication process, Sopha said.

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