Selected Extempore Comments during the Handing-Out Ceremony of Land Titles for People in Sre Khtum Commune, Keo Seima District, Mondulkiri Province

New Year 2013, Starting Land Title Handing Out in Mondulkiri’s Keo Seima

My wife and I are pleased to start afresh the year 2013 with the handing out of land titles to our people here in the district of Keo Seima, Mondulkiri province. In the year 2012, we last handed out the land titles to people in the province of Takeo. I still have three more provinces to do so – Mondulkiri, Stoeng Treng, where I will be doing so on January 21, and Koh kong, where I will go on 28 January.

The fact that the handing out of land titles here is conducted late does not mean that we could not produce the titles in time. Senior Minister HE Im Chhun Lim, Minister of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction (LMUPC) had come here once already to present land titles to our people in the province on November 15, 2012. As I was fully engaged with my other programs I had to leave for Siem Reap province, and because I did not want our people in the province of Mondulkiri to wait for me, Senior Minister HE Im Chhun Lim was instructed to hand them out on my behlaf in the district of Pij Rada for 464 families.

Social Harmonization – Key Factor of Cambodia

Our meeting today has a special point. I think that Cambodia is a country that benefits from harmonization among different faiths and from absence of regionalism. Let’s look around people belonging to many different faiths are here present today. We have the Buddhist monks and their followers, the hakems and followers of Islam, and perhaps there are other people belonging to other faiths, and those who do not follow any faith specifically too. As far as people are concerned, how many of them are originally from here? According to the history there are not many.

Just now, travelling here with my wife, I noticed that people in the region are mostly local immigrants. I met people who formerly lived in the districts of Kroj Chmar, Suong, Punhea Krek and Mehmot of Kompong Cham province. A man in his 90s, from the Muslim community, came hugging me in tears because he remembers me living with him some forty years ago, during which he was in his 50s and I was in my 20s. I met over there sister Mali, a widow of six or seven children. I asked about her family, she said she does not want to remarry as she now has ten hectares of land already. People migrated here are not only from Kompong Cham but also Prey Veng and various other provinces.

These clearly indicate that our people are in harmony as far as issues of religions and races are concerned. People from different faiths and ethnicities are living together fairly hamoniously. This is our country unique point. The rest to achieve is the leader not to lead them to division. In so far as we know is that conflicts arised not from differences in faiths or races but from political idiologies, which led us to wars that people from all faiths and races had been recruited by all warring sides.

Visiting Mondulkiri Twice in 2012

I am impressed by the report of HE Chan Yoen, governor of Mondulkiri, with regard to the progresses made by the province. If it were like under the regime of Pol Pot, one may ask how many people would want to live in Mondulkiri. If there were no peace, while in the war time there were only dozens of re-integrated families (from the Khmer Rouge side), who would want to be here? It was true that we used to say it was hard to get to Mondulkiri from the plain area but it was even harder to get back down from there to the plain. The same was also true for Ratanakiri and Preah Vihear provinces and other regions. Now Mondulkiri is a different attractive destination thanks to the National Road 76.

From the helicopter, I notice the road is closed today. I thought of not speaking too long but then there is this report of a detour. I must clarify because if the Prime Minister is here for the road to close down, there will be losses of many things – tourism, goods and services, etc. Worse is when there is also the sick who need to go to hospital. I do not welcome the report that people die while waiting for the Prime Minister to finish his speech. I have the assurance from the governor that there is a detour.

Mondulkiri is no longer like the Mondulkiri before. I am so lucky that I have the chance to come visit the province twice in 2012 – first on January 1, to accompany HM the King to travel to Mondulkiri, where people along the road came out and welcomed HM and again on January 31, I came for the inauguration of the National Road 76 which connects the district of Snuol in Kratie to Sen Monorom city and to launch the groundbreaking ceremony for the continued construction of the NR 76 from Sen Monorom city to Ratanakiri province. Once this part is done our people can travel to Mondulkiri and on to Ratanakiri or Stoeng Treng provinces without having to return to the NR 7 before continuing the trip to Ratanakiri like we are doing now. We will be able to travel soon from Stoeng Treng in the north to Preah Vihear province as well as we will have a new road NR 9 with a new bridge over the Mekong too.

Labor Redistribution – The Cambodia Ten Year March Arguments Repondered

These road and bridge infrastructures will serve as new corridors for transportations, which will also serve our purpose of redistribution of labor. This morning I thought that I would reconsider my argument that I had put them down some twenty years ago in the book “Cambodia’s Ten Year March.” In the book I brought up the issue of labor redistribution in intrarelation between places where there are many people but there are not sufficient land availability and places where there are plenty of land but less people in the aim to address socio-economic development issues and poverty alleviation. I might say that this issue has also been brought upfront by Hun Sen while holding the Prime Minister portfolio then. It was a calculated prediction that land is not getting large anymore while people are increasing in number.

We all can see now that there is smaller and smaller size of land for cultivation in the plain area as more and more people are getting married. After marriage, they need to build their homes. This pattern of life has gone on and on. You may calculate how much land has been converted from cultivative into residential areas. That does not include land erosion and losses caused by environmental and natural calamity. As we are now in the period that people are marrying their children, it is anticipated that sooner or later  more cultivative land will be converted into residential areas. It is in this development that we have precalculated that where there is development, there will certainly be pressure on the environment.

Such pressure however will have to be moderated justly. For instance, there is this population increase, which requires provision of land. In order to get land for the people, we will have to remove forest. That is why I once asked people, why there is this province that is called “Prey Veng – Long Forest?” They said it is because there used to be a long forest. Now there is long forest no more. It has transformed from long forest to long field already. The main issue for that was because there has been tremendous increase of population.

Infrastructural Investment Versus Population Growth

By 1979, the number of population was recorded to be around 5 million. As of present, there are 14 milliion. Some politicians said that we sold our heads to foreigners but why do we have more heads than before. I deem that this phrase of “so and so sells his/her head for foreigners” should not be used anymore. We have a big increase of population that there are more problems for us to resolve. I may present you with the following quotes of percentage of the population growth. In 1979, the growth rate was 3.2%, and it has since then decreased to 2.8%, and then 2.4%, to 1.8% and now 1.5%.

I cannot blame anyone for that because I also went through this population boom as well. I have a child in every 13 months. Without birth control practice, I would have more than ten children perhaps. One of my uncles has up to 16 or 17 children. For me, I have one child every year and then we had a stop. I have fourteen grandchildren and two are waiting to come. My children want their daughters but they have only sons. As for me boy or girl does not matter. Cambodia’s birth rate was high and fast that we had to move quickly on issue of food, education, health and many related fields that are inclusive for society as well as for family. Along with that we also have to promote investment infrastructural connectivity, with or without population growth, (for the socio-economic demand).

Infrastructural Development – Closing Gap Between Urban and Rural

I have said on numerous occasions that I do not believe that administrative and political integration without the various regions connecting with one another (would work at all). It is with this in mind that I deem it important to connect this area once again by the NR 76, which in the past was not linked up with Snuol but Ksem of Kratie district. Before the coup in 1970 I used to travel once over four or five Kilometers deeper into the area. I came here again in between 1975/76 as I disengaged my team from the Khmer Rouge regime and fought against Pol Pot (Samdech Techo talked to the governor of Kratie). Building road in Mondulkiri is a difficult job as mountain’s edges have to be sliced to make way for the road construction. We have to do whatever we can to bring those places altogether so as to bridge the gap of development between urban and rural areas.

This is clearly seen in terms of traveling time. People in Mondulkiri used to take a long time traveling from here to Phnom Penh, between Sen Monorom and Keo Seima district and from Keo Seima district to Snuol district. They also had hard time to make it from here to Chlong district of Kratie province and Mehmot of Kompong Cham province now. It is also encouraging that we could listen to Bayon radion on 93 MHz here in Mondulkiri, 91 MHz in Kratie and 91.5 MHz in Kompong Cham. I noted that there have been many people from Mondulkiri province taking part in the Bayon radion’s cultural talk show, which is live from 9 through to 12pm. I am sure more participations will come from people in Kratie and Stoeng Treng.

Ascertaining People’s Ownership of Their Lands

The size of land we are working on is over four million hectares. This does not include the land that we are measuring for people. Those lands have not been included because they are considered to be forest coverage area and needed to be protected. However, in reality, they are under the people’s occupation already. It is in this contrast that we are putting out concrete actions in the framework of the existing policy on land issue. Like today we have 1,291 families coming to the village of Chhneng, Sre Khtum commune, Keo Seima district, Mondulkiri province to receive their land ownership titles.

Talking about village, would you believe that in a village there are up to 1,291 families? It is a number equivalent to that of one commune already. However, theoritically these people are coming from various parts of the country in search of new cultivative land. For this number of families, there are up to 2,573 land parcles of 3,967 hectares. You may ask if people in one village ever own this much of land before. On my way here I asked people all along and some said to have owned three, five, seven and even ten hectares. This is also the case of Taing Li, a lady I know but have not met in the past 40 years.

Today I am sure that people are quite certain in their mind that they own the land legally. I understand their feelings. Not only people in this area but also people who own land yet-to-be legal have been quite concerned about how safe their land occupation would be in face of our failue to register people with land holding along with the fact that we are offering land on economic concession to private companies.

Noticing the inconsistency between the lands in actual occupation and those mapped out to be under forest coverage, we have ceased immediately the provision of economic land concession while taking swift action with the help of the youth-student volunteers together with the cadastre officials to measure land for the people according to their actual occupation. While mapping, our technical people only looked at the map and were not on the ground to see with their own eyes if the lands are indeed forest coverage. They learn only later that major parts of those lands are no longer under forest but cassava or rubber.

In my capacity as the head of the executive power, who is responsible before the National Assembly and the Cambodian People’s Party that supports my primiership, I have taken immedicate measures without backtracking untill we achieve our goal of measuring land as priority for the people in those areas. In certain urban areas, we have not done that. We have halted the measuring and offering land titles for people in urban and certain areas, for instance, so as to complete measuring and offering land titles to people who have incomplete or insecure occupations in this regard.

In this effort we will first measure land and issue titles for owners while the remaining forest coverage area will be registered as state property. For example, we have some 5,000 hectares of land under forest converage. If it is found that 4,000 hectares from the figure have already been occupied and cultivated by the people, the remained 1,000 hectares will be kept as state property and can be leased out as land concession. I am so happy to see this action going and I am sure people from different faiths – Alah or Buddha or Christ, and everywhere in our country would hail this action. We all are one nation living in one united land.

Grateful to All Land Measuring and Titling Stakeholders

I am grateful for the collaboration provided by all stakeholders so that the cadastre officials and the youth-student colunteers could fulfill their missions. I know it is not easy for all of you to come up with sufficient data so that we can certify ownership for 2,573 land parcels. May I contribute some thoughts that if you have more than ten hectares, perhaps it is better for you to consider break them into parcels for many land titles to give your children right away to save cost of doing so at a later stage, when you have to pay stamping tax (to legalize the sale and ownership transfer paper).

In this mission, we allow measuring up to ten hectres for the people who claim their lands. If you have more than ten, let’s say fifteen, why don’t you give them out to your children. As you know transference of ownership from private state land to private state land and people’s ownership is being conducted free of taxation. Today I am here to give you not only the land titles but also your legal rights to own the specified lands. The ownership tranference has been delegated to people free of stamping tax.

As far as the title is concerned, you may have noticed that as we are now in a rather cool temperature, the royal insignia appears and when the temperature gets hotter, it will disappear. This is the most important security element that prevents all sorts of forgery. There were cases that people fake the title and use it in mortgaging purpose. This security element will prevent all these, while providing long-term safety and security. Recently I have signed sub-decrees everyday so that those involved in the title issuing process would have sufficient time to do their parts.

Clarified Stamping Tax and Tax on Farm Land

Let me speak about the issue relating to the ownership title transference that I have raised about in Takeo province. The Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction was not clear about it and the press was told to put their broadcast on hold. I must reaffirm that no stamping tax will be imposed on the provision of land by the state to the people. However, when the parents transfer ownership to their children, if the land costs 100 and below million Riels, the stamping tax would also be not imposed. However, if the price of land is 200 million Riels, the 4% stamping tax will be imposed only on the 100 million Riel extra.

In rural areas for instance, it would be rare to have land that costs more than 100 million Riels. It is indeed our way of supporting the poor. We have made clear that any land costs 100 million Riels or below, we would not require them to pay stamping tax when they transfer ownership titles. When they transfer any land that costs more than 100 million Riels, for example 120 million Riels, in implementing the above instruction, the person requesting for transference would have to pay 4% stamping tax only on the 20 million Riel extra. In case of ownership transference from demised parents to children, any land that costs 200 million Riels and below would noy have to pay the stamping tax at all.

In Cambodia, the state pays for issuing identification card for the people. In other countries they charge for everything and every services – ID, family logbook, etc. I used to say they have yet to charge for breathing air. However, in some countries they have done it already when they make inclusive charge on environmental protection. We do not charge people on many things. For example the cultivative land tax, I have reaffirmed that as long as the Cambodian People’s Party is in power and I will go on as Prime Minister, or even after me, there will be a new CPP Prime Minister, the policy of no taxing on farm land would continue. At no time do we tax farmlands. We should try and find income from other sources. We must instead help farmers on various infrastructural needs such as schools, hospitals, pagodas and markets.

Agricultural Produce Price Fluctuation, Opposition’s Intriguing Moves

The market is indeed a major issue to be conerned about. Prices are fluctuating. For instance, as India and Pakistan sold out their rice in stock to the market, it has brought fluctuating impacts on the price of rice in Cambodia. The second reason is other rice producing countries also increase their production and enjoy higher yield, which also correlatively impacts on rice price in Cambodia. A few days ago the opposition party proposed that I remove the Minister of Trade for his inability to find markets for Cambodian farmers. So what I said is to respond to them that there are other factors involved that impacts the price of rice.

However, as opposition party, it is indeed their chance to exploit from the situation as they could categorically benefit two ways from it. Talking to people who buys rice, they benefit from pretending to share the concerns of people who buys instead of producing rice that the price is deadly high. When they get to the farmers, they seemingly share their concerns that the price of rice is deadly low. They said at this price how farmers could repay their costs of production, while in the previous scenario they said at a high price people who buys would die of hunger.

If our people fail to understand, they would agree with them. They would forget that it is the same people that tell a group of people one thing and another group of people another thing in contrast. They would then conclude that the Royal Government is incompetent. In the market they blame the Royal Government for the high price of rice while in the field they blame the Royal Government for the the low price of rice. They reap the benefit both ways. But I am sure people will understand that and know who they really are and the aim they want to achieve.

Take the case of cassava into consideration. They came out here and told people the Prime Minister is incapable because he could not find you market. How could they do, when the markets for cassava are in fact China and Vietnam, as both countries are their “considered” enemies. May be you can raise your hands? How many of you sell cassava to Vietnam? See you sell it to Vietnam. You know that Vietnam is their enemy. As they may make war with Vietnam when they come to power, would they make it your marketplace? As you know we are only about ten Kilometers away from here to the border with Vietnam.

I am here not to talk about politics but to clarify some of the suspicious developments. It is now time that we call “debate on price of fuel.” In 2003, there was a political party that campaigned to bring the price of gasoline down to 1,700 Riels per litre, from 2,200 Riels per litre. Another party claimed if elected they would bring the price down to 1,500 Riels. They said as if they had stock of oil in the ocean. Now it is time to debate of price of fuel again. Even Saudia Arabia and Kuwait, the most oil-rich countries, also jacked up the prices.

Looking for a Speedy Second Phase Measuring and Titling Mission

I am so grateful for respect and affection kindly offered to the youth-student volunteers and your cooperation in placing land markers that made it easier for the measuring efforts. As is reported in HE Chan Yoen’s report, some 13,433 request forms have been filled, 12,133 families of land owners have been registered, some 11,482 land parcels have already been measured, some 10,458 land parcels or 17,624 hectares of land size have been mapped. I am grateful to the youth-student volunteers in 12 groups and cadastre officials for making efforts to achieve over 30% of the plan. I also learned that some 55 of you from the previous ten groups have passed the recruitment exam. I also urge those who failed to think of future opportunity since some of you have not even registered for the exam since cadastre work does not correspond with their educational backgrounds.

These youth-student volunteers will soon become young officials who will have to undergo 12-month probationary period before entitling as officials.I am sure that our mission will be fulfilled in a speedy manner because (1) we have 168 groups of youth-student volunteers, while before we had only 12 groups and (2) the youth-student volunteers and cadastre officials have better knowledge and experience. Though these are new youth-student vounteers, they have been trained better. In the first-phase mission, both the youth-student volunteers and cadastre officials were completly new. It was not different for our officials at the local level. People also did not have much information about the mission.

I am so grateful for the efforts of all level authorities in facilitating the land measuring and titling action while taking good care of the youth-student volunteers and officials. The fact that all conveys of youth-student volunteers have been preceded by a police car so that we can secure safety for the nieces and nephews. It is true that we have to provide security and safety for all but we have to take extra measure for those involved in this mission.

In order to secure safety, we have come to the idea that for all of you involved in the second-phase mission of land measuring and titling program will be allowed to return to Phnom Penh once every two months instead of once every month like the previous phase. Instead, we will allow the youth-volunteers this time three days in the first month to take holidays in the province, while in the second month you will go to Phnom Penh. I also must reassure you that every month on February 15, it is the salary day as they are coming from me not from the national treasury or Ministry of Economy and Finance, which could be late. My wife and I have spent close to four million USD already to provide logistics and other necessary stuff. It could be difficult if we were to use the state budget. We have some contribution from the Party in order to carry out this task./.

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