Wednesday, 09 March 2011 22:22 James O’Toole and Khouth Sophak Chakrya
The World Bank has acknowledged that mismanagement and a lack of monitoring on a land titling project it conducted with the government have left thousands of Cambodians at Boeung Kak Lake and elsewhere increasingly vulnerable to forced eviction.
The Bank’s board of executive directors met in Washington on Tuesday to discuss the findings of an internal report that issued a stinging critique of the Cambodia Land Management and Administration Project, a US$28.8 million initiative designed and supervised by the Bank from 2002 to 2009.
The report said flaws in the project had led to the “arbitrary exclusion of lands from the titling process”, and that the Bank’s management should have detected earlier the “serious problems” associated with the programme.
“We are deeply troubled and frustrated about the people who are being forced from their homes,” World Bank president Robert Zoellick said in a statement.
“We have repeatedly called on the government to end the evictions. We are seeking a positive government response.”
The report, by the Bank’s Inspection Panel, focused in particular on Boeung Kak Lake, where rights groups say over 4,000 families have been denied tenure rights and are being forced from their homes unjustly by a development company owned by ruling party senator Lao Meng Khin.
The Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions submitted a request for investigation of LMAP to the Bank in 2009 on behalf of Boeung Kak residents.
The Bank did finally raise concerns to the government over the rampant evictions being conducted both inside and outside LMAP titling areas in 2009, suggesting that the project be suspended so that additional safeguards could be put in place.
The government responded by canceling the project entirely, with Prime Minister Hun Sen claiming the Bank had insisted upon “too many conditions”.
In its official response to the Inspection Panel report, the Bank’s management said it would attempt to work with Cambodia to address the problems associated with LMAP, warning that government reluctance to address the issue could have broader consequences for the Bank’s presence in the Kingdom.
“If there is [a] continued lack of willingness to cooperate on addressing the [Boeung Kak Lake] resettlement issue, management would anticipate reviewing all current and proposed support to the government in the land sector and carefully take into account the government’s position in considering the magnitude and focus of future Bank support to Cambodia,” the Bank’s management said.
Boeung Kak villagers have protested furiously against their eviction as Lao Meng Khin’s firm has pumped the lake full of sand and in some cases submerged homes entirely.
Last week, the roughly 10,000 remaining lakeside residents received a notice from Daun Penh district authorities threatening to evict them this week, though this deadline has since been postponed.
In March of 2006, the municipality designated Daun Penh’s Srah Chak commune, where Boeung Kak Lake is located, as an area open for the LMAP titling process.
Lakeside residents, however, were never given the chance to have their claims for tenure rights heard because government officials claimed they were living on “disputed” land, a decision that went unchallenged by donors and the World Bank.
Despite residents’ protests that they had lived on their land for decades and had been given permission to do so by local officials, the area was then leased to Lao Meng Khin’s Shukaku Inc in 2007 for a real estate development, with thousands having since been evicted in breach of the Bank’s resettlement policy.
Among other things, this policy calls for compensation at replacement cost for lost homes or land.
Boeung Kak residents – some of whom live on plots of land that could command $150,000 or more on the market, according to the report – have been offered compensation of just $8,500 or apartments in Dangkor district and payments of two million riel ($495).
While LMAP did succeed in issuing land titles to roughly 1.2 million Cambodians, it also faced problems away from the lakeside.
An independent assessment of the project in 2006 said that nearly 20 percent of households in 13 titling areas were “being adversely affected by the systematic land titling process, usually through the refusal to register land in household possession or use”.
David Pred, executive director of the rights group Bridges Across Borders Cambodia, said in an email that LMAP’s land titling system “has unquestionably helped to facilitate the dispossession of poor and vulnerable households”.
“By excluding households vulnerable to displacement and failing to implement a transparent, rule-based process for titling decisions, LMAP effectively formalised, and arguably deepened, structural inequality in land tenure and administration in Cambodia,” he said.
Nun Pheany, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Land Management, reacted angrily to the report, claiming the World Bank had shown “enmity” towards Cambodia.
“The World Bank is violating Cambodian sovereignty,” she said.
“I think the government will not welcome World Bank funding if they do not change their bad attitude.”
The government has denied any connection between the lakeside evictions and LMAP.
Those protesting their relocation “are just a small group of people holding a bigger group of people hostage,” Nun Pheany said, adding that Finance Minister Keat Chhon would respond “soon” to the Bank’s report.
In response to the report, which was submitted internally in November before being made public this week, the Bank’s management in January proposed a “revised action plan” in an attempt to redress the ills associated with the project.
This plan includes support for Boeung Kak families who have been evicted and a push for the government to implement an appropriate resettlement policy and land dispute resolution.
The Bank’s management said it hoped to “rebuild trust with the government”, but acknowledged that the scope for reform may be limited.
“The current state of dialogue on these issues has deteriorated to the point that the Bank’s ability to facilitate solutions is diminished,” it said.
In a statement issued today, lakeside community leader Tep Vanny called on the World Bank to “support the Inspection Panel report and pressure the government of Cambodia to respect the human rights of residents who are affected by the Boeung Kak Lake development project”.
“We are facing imminent eviction and daily human rights abuses and we need immediate intervention,” she said.