Distinguished national and International guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great honor and pleasure for me to attend the opening ceremony of the Asian Conference on Land Policy. On behalf of the Royal Government and myself, I would like to extend our warmest welcome to the delegates of the Asian land policy community, the representatives of the World Bank, Ambassadors, scholars, researchers and NGO representatives from all parts of the world attending this conference. We welcome the delegation of East Timor, a new member of our comity of nations.
During the last few years Cambodia is proud and honored to host many international conferences and meetings. Today’s conference is another important event for Cambodia in hosting this historic conference. It reflects Cambodia’s endeavors and resolve to integrate itself into the comity of nations, as part of its triangular strategy.Your participation also confirms the importance of land issues for all countries in the region and shows that countries in Asia have joined hands in an attempt to address the land issues, which are key to promote social and economic development, social improvement and sustainable management of natural resources and the environment. Moreover, this conference provides a forum to review the lessons and experiences to address emerging issues related to land management.
For the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) strengthening political stability and peace is crucial for Cambodia’s move to enhance democracy, the respect for human rights, sustainable development and poverty reduction. You may have seen that Cambodia has made tremendous efforts to overcome numerous obstacles to integrate into the regional and world economy, especially to promote economic reconstruction, alleviate poverty and improve the living standards of our people.
The Royal Government aims to build a society, in which our people can enjoy peace, stability, robust development and free from fear, conflict and violence. As you are aware, to achieve this goal, the government has formulated a “Triangular Strategy”, which consists of three pillars. The first side of this strategic triangle is building peace, restoring stability and maintaining security for the nation. The second side is Cambodia’s rapid integration into the international community, especially into the comity of regional nations, and normalization of our relationships with the international financial institutions.
The third side of the strategic triangle is to promote development based on the favorable conditions created by the implementation of key reform programs: military demobilization, public sector, judiciary and economic reforms including fiscal and banking reforms, land reform, fisheries reform and stringent measures taken to improve forest and fisheries management and strengthen the management of public finance, state property and land, to promote environmental protection and social development. I am happy to inform you that the first and the second side of the strategic triangle have been successfully implemented.
For the first time over four hundred years, Cambodia has finally turned a corner of history, putting firmly behind the darkness of its recent past history and emerging into a new dawn of its future. Cambodia now in one integrated, self-contained territory under one government, without separatists and rebels, for the first time. Now Cambodia is actively getting involved in regional and world affairs on an equal footing. We have positively contributed to the cooperation and integration within the framework of ASEAN and ASEAN plus three and the Greater Mekong Subregion.
At present all our efforts are being concentrated on the implementation of the third pillar of the strategic triangle, i.e. the reform programs that we have worked out in order to promote sustainable development and poverty reduction. We clearly understand that development and sustainable use of natural resources cannot be achieved without addressing the problem of poverty. At the same time, poverty reduction takes time to formulate policies and prepare comprehensive and realistic plans and programs. Political will is also required to mobilize social forces to achieve the objectives of poverty reduction.In this sense, the RGC prepared the “Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper” and the “Second Social and Economic Development Plan for 2001-2005”, which constitute an important political platform to combat poverty. In these policy statements, the Royal Government has laid out three key elements:
- Ensuring long-term, high economic growth rate;Promoting equitable distribution of the fruits of economic growth; and
- Maintaining sustainable management and use of natural resources;
You would have seen that in this comprehensive strategy, the government gives priorities to the management of the environment and natural resources, and social development, which constitute the key elements for sustainable development. Indeed, the government accords the priority to the management of natural resources, especially the management of land, which is the crucial resource for social and economic development in Cambodia, since some 80 percent of our population lives in the rural areas and their livelihoods depend on land, farms, rice fields and the favorable conditions of nature.
To this end, we are implementing land reforms, which focus on land distribution, management and administration. The core program of the RGC land policy consists of the formulation of policies for the development of state land, systematic land registration, tax reform, the establishment of a legal framework to enforce property rights, the establishment of a land use master plan. This reform will help protect the poor by giving them land and land title, as well as promote the rights to traditional use of land.
Our objectives are to ensure certainty and security of land tenure, sustainable land use and protecting the ecosystem. It is important to protect state land for public interests and for distribution to the people according to a transparent procedure.Decades of political turmoil and the protracted civil wars, especially the genocidal Pol Pot regime has almost destroyed the foundation of economic and social infrastructure of our nation. The land management system and the immovable property regime were destroyed including all registration records, such as land titles, land register and cadastral plan.
Between 1979 and 1989, faced with the serious legacies left after by the Khmer Rouge, especially the lack of human resources, we had to re-introduce a new land regime, beginning with the communal land property in order to ensure a normal livelihood for our people.Since mid-1980s Cambodia has embarked on economic reforms and reached a point of non-return in 1989. At that time private ownership was re-introduced. We then re-introduced the private ownership of immovable property in Cambodia.
The re-introduction of private ownership for all the people in the country created new challenges in land management, including the need for establishing a cadastral plan, land register, land title and a sound cadastral administration. To this end, human resources, equipment, techniques and considerable time are required to full this task. More problems have emerged when we opened up and introduced free-market economy at the scale of the whole nation since 1991. Land has become tradable at the time when the foundation for land market was not fully in place, including the legal and administration framework.
Hence, the negative implications of land-related issue popped up one after another, such as insecurity of land tenure, the winner-loser situation in privatization, un-used land, land fragmentation, landlessness or the loss of land. These problems occurred in the areas with great potentials for business and rapid urbanization, areas with high population density or with good economic prospect, such as on the main roads. These negative implications have had adverse impact on sustainable development of the agricultural sector, including the improvement in land tenure.
Faced with such situation, we are convinced that land tenure and sound management of other natural resources are key to promote poverty reduction, especially job creation and income generation for farmers living in rural areas. For this reason, we have made the following decision in land reform:
- Re-introduction of private ownership of land in 1989;Implementation of the 1992 Land Law, which provided a legal framework to enforce the property rights;In 1995 the Royal Government formulated and received for the first time international technical assistance for land registration according to a modern system;
- Since 1999, the government has improved the management of land and natural resources. In late 1998, two new ministries were established: the Ministry of Land Management, Urbanization and Construction and the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology. In mid-2000 the Royal Government proposed a package of land reform at the Consultative Group Meeting in Paris to seek financial and technical support for modern, nation-wide, systematic land registration.
By the end 2000, taking into account that the management of land and natural resources is a cross-cutting issue, the Royal Government established a Land Policy Council, which provide secretariat support for the Supreme Council for Land Policy. The Land Policy Council is led by the Ministry of Land Management, Urbanization and Construction and is drawn from senior officials representing 17 government ministries. This council’s mandate is to initiate, implement and follow up the implementation of land policy. For more than one year this council has assisted the government with the coordination among relevant ministries and agencies in preparing “The Statement of Land Policy”, which summarizes the main tenets of land policy. At present, the Land Policy Council elaborated this statement and adopted “The Framework Document on Land Policy Strategy”, which constitutes an important government’s strategy for poverty reduction.
This is to implement the main recommendations of the “Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper”, adopted by the government in October 2000. Moreover, the Land Policy Council also adopted other policy guidelines, such as the Guideline for State Land Inventory and the Guideline for Cadastral Committee, which constitutes a mechanism for land dispute settlement outside of the court system. These guidelines have facilitated the enforcement of the existing laws and regulations.
The Royal Government considers that, coupled with strong technical expertise and institutional capacity building, a comprehensive land policy and legal framework constitute the two main pillars for the formulation of a strategy to address the problem of land issues, so that land will become a real instrument of the poverty reduction policy to be implemented in both rural and urban areas. The new Land Law, which was promulgated on 30th August 2001, is the main guiding framework for the formulation of a land policy. Indeed, the land policy also has a reciprocal impact on law enforcement. The Land Law and a number of related draft laws, such as the draft Law on Water, draft Law on Mine, draft Forestry Law, draft Fisheries Law and the Law on Protected Area Management will improve the management of natural resources. The government’s key policy in land distribution is to provide land to farmers with small lot of land or landless farmers and protect the vulnerable group of people and the ethnic minority groups.
The new Land Law put an end to the special procurement of natural rights to land, which will be appropriately replaced by a “social concession” to be granted to those in real need for land for housing construction and for small and medium businesses. Based on past experience with the remedial actions taken by the Phnom Penh municipality, it is important to conduct a study and formulate a policy for the urban poor and the housing policy. For the rural areas, a research should be initiated to develop a formula to deal with small and medium business for agricultural production to which social concession is granted and the big agricultural unit or agribusiness to which the economic concession is applied. The Ministry of Land Management, Urbanization and Construction and relevant ministries should get together to consider and determine the state’s private land so that the state can give the land to those in need in the two forms mentioned earlier.
This includes big un-operational concessions, degraded forests or land cleared from landmines etc. At the same time, we have to conduct a study on those on the top of the list for land distribution, such as women-headed single households, handicaps, households with many children, demobilized soldiers and repatriated refugees. While expanding the frontier of agricultural land for those in need, the government envisions to develop this sector by promoting intensive agriculture in order to leave land for the next generation and promote efficient land use.
Apart from implementing the land policy, the government has made emphasis on ensuring the security of land tenure by embarking on a modern, systemic land registration and enhancing the old method of land registration with new technology. With technical assistance from the Federal Republic of Germany and Finland, the RGC conducted a pilot systematic land registration project using state-of-the-art technology and delivered land title certificates for the first time to the landowners on 1st December 2000. Based on this pilot project, the RGC has developed a multilateral Project on Land Management and Land Administration, in which the government, the World Bank, Germany and Finland are involved, to register land nation-wide.
Though the first phase will span on five years and we will be able to register only 1 million of the 6 to 7 million plots of land in the country, this project will strengthen the land registration system and make it more transparent and reliable from initial registration to the management of records on land to be sold, exchanged, held as mortgage and transferred to a new owner. It also helps formulate policy and establish a comprehensive legal framework to ensure land tenure security and strengthen the land market.
Many pilot components of this project, such as the inventory of state land, the study on taxation system, land to be distributed to the people, procedures for the registration of land for ethnic minority groups and the mechanism for dispute resolution will facilitate land management in Cambodia. Indeed, strengthening land tenure security will contribute to poverty reduction, promote economic development and strengthen social stability through the reduction in land disputes.
Apart from the land distribution and land administration policy, land plays a crucial role in equitable and sustainable development – the government’s main policy. To this end, the RGC gave instructions to conduct studies and compile documents for land management at all levels in accordance with the principles of decentralization and zoning, inventory of state land to ensure sustainable possession, utilization and management of land and like land administration to the management of natural resources. The latter requires that we make land classification and registration of the state’s immovable property, set the responsibility of the authorities at all levels, including the rights and obligation of the grassroots authorities in the management of land and natural resources.
In this sense, the newly established decentralized system of commune/sangkat councils will effectively contribute to the possession, utilization and management of natural resources by the grassroots communities.I am convinced that this conference will provide all participants with the opportunity to share experience and knowledge about land-related techniques. At the same time, the conference will consider the role of land in poverty reduction and economic development, as well as determine the priorities for public investment to reach its objectives. Indeed, each country has diverse issues in land system. However, some of the needs and challenges are the same, such as the need for a clearly defined legal framework and property rights, issues related to natural resource management, challenges to address the need for land, organized urban development and housing for the poor etc.
Therefore, the conference provides rare opportunity to make a joint overview of the progress and what remains to be done.On behalf of the Royal Government, I take this opportunity to express our deep appreciation to the World Bank for sharing with us good experiences and lessons drawn from land policy reform all over the world. They are very valuable for us in our continued effort to strengthen land administration system and land management in Cambodia. The many topics raised by the conference are very important for Cambodia, as well as for countries in the region. This includes registration of land tenure and the role of land registration system, the operation of land market, the possibility of the poor receiving land, the process of land distribution during the post-war period and land management in urban areas etc. I therefore hope that the conference will give crucial recommendations for the implementation of land management.
I think that this is the first time that Asian countries get together at a conference to exchange experience about land issues. We welcome distinguished participants from China, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, Laos, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Korea who will discuss in depth the important topics, which are common problems in the region, as well as specific problems for each country and circumstance. It is a successful gathering of regional experts and also a display of commitment expressed by the representatives of the governments, academic and the civil society in the region to promote cooperation, exchange of views and experiences for joint development. Another benefit that we will get from this conference is the exchange of experience and promotion of cooperation in the areas of land in the region, including technical and legal cooperation, the cooperation in the area of skill training, natural resource management, protection of ethnic minorities, preparation of a land use plan and the development of urban areas.
Once again, I wish to deeply thank the organizers and the sponsors of this conference, and the distinguished participants for their active involvement to ensure its success.
In conclusion, I would like to extend to all the delegations from all countries bright success in the discussion and the exchange of their experiences at this conference. I wish all of you every success in your deliberations as well as a pleasant and memorable stay in Phnom Penh or any other cities of Cambodia. I wish the conference a complete success and let me announce the official opening of this conference from now on. I thank you all for your kind attention.