Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today, I have a great honor and pleasure to join you all in this National Forum on Land Management. This forum will indeed discuss the results and progress so far achieved as well as directions of future land reform which represents a key reform area identified in the Rectangular Strategy of the Royal Government and an ample opportunity for me speak to those responsible for land management on some critical land issues and their direct implication with development.
Taking this opportunity, may I extend my warmest welcome to all the distinguished national and international participants of this forum! I appreciate the good cooperation among the government’s ministries and institutions and the development partners within the joint technical working group on land who have together organized this forum in response to the Royal Government’s request raised during the Pre-CG meeting on 10 September 2004, in preparation for the 7th Consultative Group Meeting between the government and donor community.
The presence of national and international representatives here indeed testifies the strong interest in stressing the important role of land management in the sustainable economic development and poverty reduction in Cambodia.
As H.E. Im Chhunlim has reported, though the current land situation remains some challenges but much progress has been made in strategic areas of land management which follows through the RGC’s policy. In implementing the new land law and the primary strategic framework document on the RGC’s land policy, we have specifically focused on strengthening the safety of land ownership through the busy land registration and further updating the policy and legal frameworks to consolidate the bases for land management, contributing to strengthened social stability and enhanced economic development.
On this occasion, may I appreciate and praise the Land Policy Council of the Ministry of Land Management, Urbanization and Construction and all the ministries/institutions concerned for their efforts in helping realize the targets of the Second Mandate Royal Government, while they are now working hard to fine-tune their work-plans as guided by the Rectangular Strategy for Growth, Employment, Equity and Efficiency in Cambodia.
Indeed, improvements in land management and safety of land ownership are key to ensuring a sustainable and equitable economic growth. The Rectangular Strategy of the Third Mandate RGC identifies land reform as key element to improve agriculture and rural livelihoods, which is very much consistent with the SEDPII and NPRS. In this sense, improved access to land and effective use of this resource are crucial for promoting economic growth, generating employment, ensuring social equity and fairness, and strengthening effectiveness in the reforms, thus helping reduce the poverty and achieve sustainable development.
In term of land and natural resources, Cambodia is a country whose state possesses the resources up to 80%, more than other states in Asia which most of them possess only up to 50%. However, our use of the resources is not yet effective and not productive for economic growth and poverty reduction, as lands are not in the hands of real producers. Both state and key private sectors have not yet displayed the ability to manage lands sustainably in order to produce any substantial outputs. Land and employment productivity remain low compared to those of other countries in the region. Moreover, it should be noted that exports related FDIs in agriculture and other natural resources remain low while the revenue collected from economic land concessions has been far below the expected levels.
Thus, Cambodia’s economic growth mostly depends on our ability to have lands in the possession of our population who are the real producers. To solve this problem, the Royal Government will focus on establishing a new form of business environment by building up a strong partnership between public and private sectors working together toward facilitating market needs with, the aim to promote small scale farmers in obtaining benefit from Cambodia’s membership in WTO and ASEAN to export Cambodia agricultural products to other countries in the region and the world.
Researches reveal that between 12 to 15% of Cambodian population are landless equivalent to more than 1 million people, and young people entering the labor force each year account for 200,000 while the absorbing capacity of other sectors except agriculture is still limited. Thus, improving access to agricultural lands for landless people and those in scarcity of lands is very critical at this stage providing them with the opportunity to production and improving their living, and thus benefiting the national economy as a whole.
Moreover, it should also be noted that though 80% of lands are under the government’s management but there are no clear demarcation and classification and the use of the lands sometimes is not appropriate to the land quality. This uncertainty is a cause of many illegal land occupations and disputes. That why the Royal Government is preparing a sub-decree on management of state lands to provide increasing power to provinces and municipalities and local authorities in determining the allocation and use of lands for the benefit of our people. Thus, we shall exert our best efforts to draw up a map of state lands and arrangement for land use aiming at growth, poverty reduction and sustainable environment.
Concerning economic land concessions, the concessions provided to investors so far without thorough investigation of impacts with regard to locations, lack of studies and assessments of long-term investment prospects and ability by the investors, have made us little benefit from the concessions. Moreover, some concessioners implemented only few provisions of contracts to cover up their illegal logging activities and then left the lands idled.
The Royal Government is now preparing a sub-decree on economic land concession to secure lands for the “real investors”, which forms an important part of the RGC’s program to improve investment climate. We want to use the sub-decree to attract investors to bring in capitals, technology, market and jobs, but not to attract those claming land ownership just for the sake of speculation on land price and logging. Thus, we suspend the issuance of new economic land concessions until the sub-decree is ready and effective.
Another concern is large-scale land ownership without any production activities by influential and rich people. We must effectively enforce Land Law by issuing guidelines for implementing Article 18 of the law to repossess those state’s lands or to take immediate actions against illegal land “fencing” by influential people. Lands possessed by people, who do not have willingness or resources to invest, reduce land productivity; as a result, will reduce possibility of employment creation and agricultural products export potentials. Therefore, we must carefully and strictly impose taxes on unproductive lands to encourage large-scale unused land possessors divert ownership to people who have willing to produce.
Take the opportunity, I would like to declare a campaign against illegal large-scale land ownership by leaving those lands unproductive by influence and rich people in which significantly impact social stability and economic development. On behalf of Royal Government of Cambodia, I would like to declare an order to all ministries and relevance institutions, all level of armies and local authorities must cooperate and participate to timely crack down and eliminate those illegal lands ownership. I would like to publicly warn involving his/her Excellencies, Okhna, ladies and gentlemen to withdraw the ownership and hand over those lands back to the government to distribute to the poor who need those lands for their subsistence livelihood. By not doing so, you will face a serious crisis.
Coincided with increasing possibility of land ownership, the government strengthens safety of ownership by issuing a secure land titles certificate. That strategy is actively implementing and we are able to issue 20,000 monthly according to legal procedure with resident participation and transparency. At the same time, with donor support we will gradually expand systematic land titles registration countrywide.
In the other hand, with the concept of land development in high land region involving traditional likelihood of indigenous groups, we are preparing policy and sub-decree on community land titles registration as well as law on community regulation. I would like to express gratitude to relevant institutions and communities for the support and cooperation, and to donors in helping develop participatory land use planning in those regions. Take this opportunity, I would like to appeal to all level of authorities continue their cooperation to protect likelihoods of communities as well as to take actions on falling resin exploited trees.
Another issue that I would like to emphasis is to establish municipal, provincial, and district land registry committee to facilitate resident un-registrant land dispute. In reality, those committees actively work and contribute to local authorities and judges in making decision. However, the mechanism does not have ability to deal with all type of disputes especially the case involving influential persons. The government, hence, will strengthen ability of the committee to ensure transparency and accountability of the mechanism.
Selected Comments (Begins)
The following is selected comments aside from the prepared speech by Samdech Hun Sen at the first National Forum on Land Management held at the Cambodian Development Council. Samdech Hun Sen sounded out practical examples on issues of land grabbing, encroachment and confiscation.
… Aside from the prepared speech please allow me to share in our discussion today some of my ideas. In 1999 I announced at the Royal University of Agriculture that should we not manage land issue in a good manner, we might have to face a farmers’ revolution against the Royal Government. We have so far since then solved a large number of issues, which have been granted recognition just now by representatives of the World Bank and foreign embassies. It should be in our recognition that on some front the situation develops in a way that I compare it to shutting the horse shed while the horses are out already.
… It is everybody’s knowledge that the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction was set up on November 30, 1998. The Ministry was in full operation in 1999 after the country experienced issues of land management already. We can also say that though the horse shed has been closed since then, still some horses have sneaked out because of the people either with power or rich resources. It is our understanding that we have to get those horses back into the shed. Some people grabbed lands and disguised its ownership under someone’s name. It has been common to see that some people grab an area of about 3000 hectares and its ownership was broken down into about 500 different ownerships. This is the case that the representative of the World Bank illustrated to be land speculation.
… If we were to neglect this, those people will make easy and good sum of money from national property/land and it is envisaged that corruption is obvious in this matter. I would to have your attention in this matter that to work out issues relating to fisheries, land disputes and forestry is to solve issue of corruption right to the core. Someone has collected an area of thousands of hectares and they may try to bribe someone in the system so that he/she could speculate it. It is time for us to get back those horses and give them to those in real need as we have defined here those people could either have none or have less than what they need.
… We have to try and find a solution in which our farmers could make real use of land for the sake of increasing production and improving their livelihood. I may give you a brief description of the land issues in Cambodia. Talking about land concession, some of the land given out in concession in the past was in the benefit of commission-taking. Once the land is offered, the person requested for land would rush to show their entitlement of the land and sell it to companies. This could be the case in which someone requests for ten of thousands of hectares of land. While possessing no money in doing so, he/she sold out entitlement license to the third party for his/her own sake. This has in return created a situation in which those with resources to invest have got no land to do so, while those who do not have have land for free. I wish therefore to instruct the authority to inspect those licenses that are given out and negotiate new deals if they have not been made use yet. We must be prepared to draw back the land.
… I wish to say a few things in relations to the local authority’s negligence to keep watch on those lands given out as concession. A case in Pailin, as the land was given out as concession to a company without inspection made but let the land being deforested. Sometimes it is a mistake too that the central authority drawing a map of forest concession without consulting with the local authority which in the end leads to inclusion of urban area, take for instance the town of Ratanakiri, in the map of forest concession coverage… Take fisheries for instance, prior to the reform of fishery policy in 2000-2001 in which the Government allocated 56% of the fishing area for local fishermen, the fishing lot mapping had turned our people in the fishing village illegal fishermen. This happened because the mapping of fishing lots adapted the mapping of fishing lots in 1927. It cannot be correct to keep the 1927-map for the situation in 2000. It is our mistake.
…It is my understanding that in the pace of reform I have two mistakes to admit. First I was late to introduce reforms in land management, and in fishing policy. Before the policy was introduced I went to inspect various provinces but it took quite a while to digest issues of ownerships – should we recognize ownerships from before 1975 or from before 1970?. Take for instance people were moved from place to place, from urban to rural under the regime of Pol Pot. People in Kompong Cham were moved to battambang and should we allow them to get back to Kompong Cham and retake their ownerships? If we were to do so, we might have to relocate our people once again. It is worth mentioning that there are not many people who could reclaim their ownerships from before 1975. A large number of people resettled on their new ownerships allocated to them after the fall of the Pol Pot’s regime in 1979. Finally we have decided in 1997 to recognize ownerships to people who actually occupied and cultivated land according to the status quo.
… We all may remember that when In Tam was Governor of Battambang, he initiated a construction of a road from Treng, through Phnom Vai Chab to Samlaut and Tasanh. Land along the road he initiated was owned by officials while farmers were not grabing any benefit from this road at all. Later we learned of an uprising in Samlaut. As far as I know In Tam owned hundreds of hectares of rice land in Mungkul Boprei because his nephew had filed a plea for ownership on his behalf to me. We have to be careful for possible repetition of history. Take all this into consideration I think that the matter remain whether you would act or not, if you do not act, we then could not implement our work with success.
… Take for instance if you know of a senior government official illegally possesses an area of land, 1000 hectares for example, I would rebuke him/her by stripping them off their positions. If I were not to do so I would step down. But so far I have not received any reports on the situation in paper. I also have a sense that some incidents happened with the remarks that it is difficult to implement the law as we have here mostly our men”. I would warn you of thinking so and there would be no our or their men before the rule of law. On the contrary if it is our men we must punish them hard as doing so would give an example to a thousand others… Selected Comments (Ends)
In conclusion, the government strongly commits to transform the land into an engine of economic growth and poverty reduction through providing possibility of land receiving for the poor, improving safety of land titles, improving land distribution, utilizing state’s lands, and implementing land reform to improve investment climate in agriculture. Finally, I wish you all the five gems of Buddhist blessing. May I also wish the conference to be productive and declare the opening of the Forum now! EndItem.