Working towards greater community control over land, forests and natural resources

Tunnelling ahead as Laos-China railway proceeds on track

Source: Vientiane Times, July 15, 2017
http://www.vientianetimes.org.la/FreeContent/FreeConten_Tunnelling_162.htm
Construction of the Laos-China railway project is progressing as scheduled despite some work requiring a pause due to the rainy season, officials in charge said.
Work on boring tunnels is carrying on, project coordinator for Luang Namtha province Mr Chanthachone Keolakhone told Vientiane Times via telephone on Wednesday.
Mr Chanthachone said Lao and Chinese officials had worked hard to bore tunnel entrances before the rainy season so that rainfall would not delay construction.
Naturally, work inside the tunnels can be carried out without little regard to weather conditions outside.
Mr Chanthachone said that all three tunnels are being bored with the Boten Tunnel having progressed the furthest at more than 120 metres.
The Teentok Tunnel is gathering steam at 45 metres in length to date.
The Laos-China Friendship Tunnel, crossing the Laos-China border has seen more than 55 metres of progress thus far.
Mr Chanthachone said construction of bridges and roads related to the project are now on pause until rains end.
Construction may not meet the standards if we continue to work due to the rainfall, he said.
In particular, the preparations to drill the foundations for a bridge connecting Luang Namtha and Oudomxay provinces had to be halted.
In Oudomxay province, the project coordinator Mr Phonpadith Phommakit told Vientiane Times on Wednesday that work on around 34 tunnels is still ongoing.
Currently, some nine of 34 tunnels have been bored and are on now track, while some works of roads and bridges are also on pause due to the rainfall.
In Vientiane, project coordinator Mr Souneth Luangsouphom said officials have continued to remove barriers and to develop areas for the construction since the project began in December last year.
At present, Chinese contractors had already developed a 15 km stretch in preparation for construction to date, he said.
A 7km-long bridge from Dongxiengdy to Nakhoun villages in Naxaithong district will be constructed after the seasonal rainfalls conclude, he said.
The planned 417-km railway to connect Vientiane to the Chinese border traverses the provinces of Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Oudomxay and Luang Namtha passing through 75 tunnels with a combined length of 197.83km.
The project has a total investment of 40 billion Chinese yuan (about US$6 billion), 70 percent of which comes from China, with 30 percent from Laos.
The project set to be completed by 2021 is seen to mark a significant milestone in the socio-economic and cooperation strategies of the two countries.
The project is linked to the ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative proffered by Chinese President Xi Jinping and is expected to contribute to increased friendly relations and cooperation between the neighbours and Asean as a whole.
The Lao government places great importance on the realisation of the project which is part of a planned regional railway linking southern China to Singapore via Laos, Thailand and Malaysia.
Laos also attached great importance to and is seriously examining opportunities per the One Belt and One Road, which provides clear goals of comprehensive cooperation between countries of the region and contributes to the promotion of a higher level of connectivity in policies, infrastructure, trade and investment, finance, society and culture.

Demarcation complete, Luang Prabang eyes investment to push SEZ project ahead

Source: Vientiane Times, June 26, 2017
http://vientianetimes.org.la/FreeContent/FreeConten_Demarcation_145.html
Development of a US$1.2 billion special economic zone (SEZ) in Luang Prabang province has faced delays attributed to project demarcation now completed while its developer seeks further investment and financial backing.
The plans for the zone include a 23-storey building, schools, hospitals, shopping centre, bank, hotels, restaurants and residences including homes and advanced nursing care for older people.
The SEZ is designed to create a modern conurbation for the provincial capital while ensuring the ongoing preservation of the old town.
The government signed an agreement on the zone with the country’s own Phousy Group in January last year, allowing the company to establish this project in Luang Prabang province.
Areas for organic vegetable production also feature in the plan.
Speaking to Vientiane Times on Friday, Deputy Director of the Luang Prabang provincial Department of Planning and Investment, Mr Bounsom Thatsavong said that construction activity had not been carried out in the zone so far.
“The zone is still vegetated as it has been,” he said.
“Nevertheless, the developer has completed demarcating the project site.”
He said the developer would be looking for further partners to develop the SEZ zone since it requires an enormous amount of capital to carry out.
He did not confirm when construction would begin or particulars of the financial backing and investment sourced to date.
“Our authorities have tried to push for the project’s progress which should contribute to boosting the economic growth in our province,” Mr Bounsom said.
Earlier this year, Deputy Prime Minister Mr Sonexay Siphandone visited the project site during a visit to the northern provinces.
Mr Sonexay saw firsthand the extent of development so far and the location of the site where a bridge will be built across the Mekong to link the three zones incorporated in the SEZ.
People in the area currently use ferries to cross the Mekong between the town of Luang Prabang and Chomphet district for travel and business.
The zone is about 10km outside Luang Prabang town centre with another site in Chomphet district on the other side of the Mekong River.
With a concession period of 99 years, the initial project proposal comprised an area of 4,850 hectares in the two districts.
A portion was found to overlap with the world heritage site, resulting in a revision in size to about 4500 hectares, Mr Bounsom said.
The government hopes the project will catalyse economic growth in the province and generate further job opportunities for local people.
A one-stop operating service is to be introduced for businesses in the zone to ensure transparency and accountability and to facilitate development.
The site is set to help the province overcome development constraints and preserve the old town of Luang Prabang, home to Laos’ first World Heritage Site and considered a magnet for domestic and international tourists in an increasingly interconnected region.
By Somsack Pongkhao
(Latest Update June 26, 2017)

Ministry orders action to address land disputes, unlawful land occupation

Source: Vientiane Times, June 21, 2017
http://www.vientianetimes.org.la/FreeContent/FreeConten_Ministry.html
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment has ordered provincial and district line departments to take actions to address land disputes, unlawful land occupations and related issues.
The order came as increasing numbers of cases involving land issues have emerged in recent years prompting the government to form a taskforce committee to investigate and address the issues.
Deputy Director General of the Ministry’s Land Administration Department Mr AnothaiChanthalasy told Vientiane Times yesterday that the taskforce committee was required to conclude their works and report their outcomes to the government by October.
It was reported previously that the government has told the committee to inspect land concessions and the transfer of land use rights in various cases after learning these issues had been causal factors in disputed cases emerging in recent years.
The committee will also inspect the implementation of the government’s policy to turn assets into capital, which has seen state departments approaching investors to build new offices for them in suburban areas in exchange for usage of the state lands where their old offices were located, generally closer to the city centre. The inspection came as reports emerged that many projects implemented under the turning-asset-into-capital scheme were not properly included in relevant socio-economic development plans thus were not approved by the National Assembly.
Additionally, many of these projects did not undergo open bidding processes in violation of the relevant regulations.
Additionally, Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith said recently that a number of fake documents had been produced claiming usage rights of state lands by various individuals and organisations.
The inspection will also find out if local people’s lands have been occupied unlawfully as well cases of the inappropriate occupation of proximate state lands by members of such communities.
MrAnothai said Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, MrSommad Pholsena issued several notices giving guidance on how best to take actions to address these issues.” Authorities in charge will carry out a comprehensive inspection into land issues including the inspection of land registrations,” MrAnothai said.
In his notice issued late last month, MrSommad recommended local people facing land disputes approach district offices in charge to seek solutions in line with the relevant laws and regulations.
The minister also called for the district and provincial authorities to collate submissions made by respondents and take appropriate actions to address the particulars of respective cases based on the law.
For those issues which district and provincial departments are unable to address, the officials are called upon to report to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment or higher authorities to seek guidance and solutions.
Those wanting to submit petitions concerning land disputes to the Ministry’s Land Department directly can do so through its reception desk, its petition box or through the ministry’s hotline No 1514.
MrSommad pledged that the Ministry would work with local concerned authorities to address the submitted issues.
He also told the provincial Natural Resources and Environment departments to report progress made in addressing identified land-related issues to the ministry on a regular basis.

Oudomxay banana farms unable to renew contracts

Source: Vientiane Times, June 10, 2017
http://www.vientianetimes.org.la/FreeContent/FreeConten_Oudomxay_132.html
A number of banana farms in Oudomxay province have ceased operations after their contracts expired following numerous complaints from local residents that their operations were negatively affecting the environment.
The farms are operated by 11 concession holders. Seven companies are still continuing their operations but four companies’ contracts have expired and the authorities will not renew them.
A provincial Agriculture and Forestry Department official, Mr Bounyeun Xayyaven told Vientiane Times yesterday the 11 companies had concessions and rented the land of local residents to operate their banana farms, but four of those companies had ended their work after their contracts expired.
The seven companies that are currently still in business will also cease work when their contracts expire, he said, adding that in each case the investors are returning the land to their owners upon the expiration of their contracts.
Of the remaining companies, some still have three year contracts while others have five year contracts but they must comply with government policy on environmental protection as long as they are still in operation, Mr Bounyeun said.
Last year, the Prime Minister’s Office ordered farms that were preparing to cultivate banana trees to cease work. Companies that own thousands of hectares of banana plantations where trees have already been planted will not be allowed to plant any more after harvesting the crop.
Chinese-owned banana farms are not only found in the north of Laos, there are also hundreds of hectares of bananas under cultivation in Vientiane province and the capital.
According to a National Assembly report in October last year, some provinces are using too many insecticides, pesticides and chemical fertilisers, but this issue did not feature in reports submitted to the Assembly.
Some people became ill and some allegedly died after pesticide was sprayed on farms, but the reports did not say where this had occurred.
There are no bananas grown on Chinese-owned farms for sale in local markets as the farms send all their fruit to China. The bananas are packed in cardboard boxes for immediate shipment to China after they are harvested.

Bolikhamxay Shuts Down 17 Timber Factories

Source: KPL, June 15, 2017
http://kpl.gov.la/en/detail.aspx?id=25372
By Phetsamone PHOMMUNY
(KPL) Bolikhamxay authorities have recently announced the shutdown of 17 timber factories and 35 other factories have been ordered to improve their standards within the next six months.
Head of the Bolikhamxay Industry and Commerce Division, Sengaloun Sengaphone said that 35 timber factories must be improved within next six months in line with the Prime Minister’s decree. If they fail to do so, their business operations will also be suspended permanently.
17 timber factories have been shut down due to violation of the Prime Minister’s decree and running in poor condition: wood industry processing factory, Phoudoi-Liengfathong, KL, Sengdao Group, Duangchaleun 2, Duangchaleun 3, Boualy, Mingkhuang, Duanglasy, Phaviengthong, Phoudoi Furniture,Touay-Toun Furniture, Manida, Inthalengsy, Manivong, SLP and Bounyou furniture.
wood-b
Prime Minister’s Order No. 15 has successfully curbed harmful practices in the forestry sector and timber industry, while restoring public trust in the party and government.
Currently, 67 timber factories are deemed to be legitimate and up to standard, Mr Sengaloun has said, adding that since the Prime Minister’s order No 15, authorities have strictly implemented the order and set up a task force committee to carry out preventive measures on illegal logging and banning illegal wood exports.

Private sector urged to get involved with infrastructure development

Source: Vientiane Times, June 5, 2017
Infrastructure development under the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) model is taking shape in Laos as the government requires huge capital investment to improve road networks and other facilities.
Lao economists have supported the initiative, saying that with the government’s limited funding, it’s critical to encourage the involvement of the private sector to develop infrastructure.
Independent and experienced economist Dr ManaSouthichak told Vientiane Times last week that “private investment in developing roads or expressways is a good way to reduce the government’s budget burden, but the government needs to ensure the integrity of the project as well.”
Dr Mana referred to a toll on Road No. 16 in Champassak province where the government allowed Duangdy Bridge-Road Construction Company to upgrade the road and collect fees from motorists for a period of 45 years.
The toll road generated large numbers of complaints from members of the public since the developer started to collect fees from motorists in August last year.
“This project is not fair for the public,” Dr Mana said, saying that private companies needed to be allowed to build new roads (not upgrade existing roads) and collect fees from motorists. Those who do not want to pay the fees can then use the existing roads.
A senior economist at the National Economic Research Institute, Dr Leeber Leebouapao agreed with this opinion, saying the government needed to create options for local people, not forcing them to pay the tolls.
Currently, Laos plans to build an expressway from Vientiane to northern and southern parts of the country to facilitate transport as well as boost economic growth.
A planned Vientiane-Vangvieng expressway over the distance of 113.7 km is under a feasibility study. The project, which is estimated to cost US$1.4 billion, is set to be developed in parallel with the existing Road 13 North and the Laos-China railway project.
Another planned expressway will be built from Vientiane’s city centre to Xaythany district over the distance of 14 km, passing through 13 villages in Xaysettha district and six villages in Xaythany district.
The government recently approved construction of the project which expected to cost between US$150 million and US$200 million.
Nevertheless, Dr Leeber is optimistic that the private-public partnerships will help the government attract capital from private investment to sustain economic growth.
In 2016, the overall investment across Laos increased above the set plan by 24.2 percent year-on-year, driven by private sector and bank credit, according to the government’s latest report.
The government planned to mobilise 34.5 trillion kip last year but more than 42.85 trillion kip has been pumped into the investment sector, representing 33.1 percent of Gross Domestic Product.
However, domestic and foreign private entrepreneurs represent more than half of the entire investment sector.

Laos prime minister concerned over banana plantations

Source: Reuters, May15,2017
http://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-silkroad-laos-pm-idUSKCN18B0N8
The prime minister of Laos has voiced concern over widespread chemical usage on banana plantations after a Reuters report on Chinese-run farms in the Southeast Asian country.

Laos' Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith delivers a speech  in Hanoi, Vietnam 26 October 2016.  REUTERS/Luong Thai Linh/Pool

Laos’ Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith delivers a speech in Hanoi, Vietnam 26 October 2016. REUTERS/Luong Thai Linh/Pool

Local land handovers unauthorised: Minister

Source: Vientiane Times, May 30, 2017
http://www.vientianetimes.org.la/sub-new/Current/Curr_Local.html
Community land which has been handed over by village authorities to investors should be all taken back as collective property because the actions of local authorities are against the law.
Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Mr Sommad Pholsena tabled this direction in debate at the recent session of the National Assembly (NA).
The assembly quizzed the government about the spread of village authorities giving community land to investors, individuals, companies and organisations for rent or granted in exchange for community roads or other infrastructure facilities.
“I would like to propose the National Assembly as well as Local People’s Assemblies annul the land authorisations made by village authorities,” Mr Sommad said. He referred to the Land Law, which he said gave clear stipulation on the allocation of agricultural land use rights.“The district or municipal administration is in charge of considering and approving the allocation of land use rights for agricultural land under its management to individuals and organisations to use by issuing land certificates to them,” the minister stated from article No.18 of the law.
“These land certificates are valid for three years. During this period, if land has been used in conformity with objectives and regulations, and if there is no objection or claim, or those claims have already been settled, then the individuals and organisations have the right to apply to the land management authorities at the provincial or city level for the issuance of a land title for long-term use rights,” he continued reading the stipulation in the law.
Mr Sommad also highlighted the spread of offences made against stipulations in the law regarding allocation of forest land use rights, use of land around bodies of water, and determining the scope of construction land use rights.
He promised to inspect the offences related to the responsibilities of his ministry such as the issuance of land titles. In an example, he spoke about village chiefs selling community land to private companies or individuals, who later received land titles from the ministry.
Such issuance of land titles would include cases when private companies or individuals wanted to use the land to secure investment finance, according to the minister. He asked NA members and members of provincial people’s councils to keep a close eye on these activities and inform the ministry about any related offences.

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