THE World Bank has expressed further concerns about the efficacy of a donor-funded land-administration project run jointly with the government, with a decision pending on whether to launch a formal investigation into the programme.
The World Bank’s Washington-based inspection panel on Wednesday issued its response to a September investigation request from villagers of the Boeung Kak lakeside community with the support of local housing-rights advocates.
In the request, villagers say the World Bank did not adequately supervise the Land Management and Administration Project (LMAP), a US$38.4 million effort begun in 2002 to disseminate land titles and create an “efficient and transparent land administration system” for the Kingdom.
In fact, villagers said, the programme was ineffective in the face of a marked increase of forced evictions and failed to grant tenure rights to vulnerable residents. More than 4,000 families are facing eviction from the lake to make way for a 133-hectare development project.
The government terminated its partnership with the World Bank land-titling project in September. Prime Minister Hun Sen said at the time that the organisation demanded “too many conditions”.
While the inspection panel defended elements of the project’s legacy, noting that it had issued more than 1.1 million land titles in the past seven years, it acknowledged significant problems in LMAP’s overall approach.
“The unavoidable complexity of the project and the backdrop of political and administrative inefficiency (ranging from a lack of competence through to corruption) necessarily meant that the project was a risky undertaking,” the panel said.
Among the problems in LMAP’s implementation, the panel said, was an undue focus on the “incremental titling process” that failed to develop a larger vision for land management and engage with the government on the issue of forced evictions. Local concerns, it added, were often neglected.
“Residents were not adequately involved in the titling process, and they did not have access to a fair and independent dispute resolution mechanism regarding their claims,” it said.
David Pred, director of the group Bridges Across Borders, said at the time of the complaint’s filing that a World Bank investigation could have ramifications beyond the realm of land rights. “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,” he said.
Be Pharom, a Boeung Kak lake resident representative, said that though residents had made overtures to the World Bank about earning titles through the LMAP project, the government had stepped in to stop them.
“The World Bank told us that when they asked the government to register us through the LMAP project, the government told them not to interfere in Cambodian politics,” she said, adding: “Everything was stuck when the government stopped working with the World Bank on this project.”
The inspection panel will decide whether or not to recommend a further investigation of the project by March 31 next year, but despite its criticisms of the government, the panel emphasised the importance of engaging with local officials.
“The actions that would have the greatest impact for the communities … require a committed engagement from the government,” it said.
Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun could not be reached for comment.