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

Round Table Implementation Meeting 2012

Vientiane Times, Nov 27, 2012

PM briefed on annual round table

Heads of foreign embassies and international organisations called on Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong yesterday at the Government Office to brief him on the the annual round table meeting. United Nations Resident Coordinator and United Nations Development Programme Resident Representative Mr Minh Pham led the foreign delegation’s visit. The annual round table (RTM 2012) was held on Friday, and reviewed implementation of the second year of the Seventh National Socio-Economic Developemnt Plan and discussed future priorities and resources to achieve national development objectives.

The development partners congratulated the Lao government on its achievements during the year. Priority issues at the RTM 2012 discussion included tackling persistent social disparities through more effective investment in social sectors. Also supported was a new policy that protects the poor and expands development dialogue to encompass the issue of foreign direct investment. Prudent overall fiscal management, as well as sustainable management of the national debt was also raised at the discussion as an encouragement to minimise risks to the nation’s high economic growth, and increase Lao business competitiveness.

The RTM also closely examined ways for the country to accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. For the first time, the meeting included the participation of national non-profit associations. The participants agreed to address the urgent improvements needed in food and nutrition security, using a coordinated approach based on the successful model that helped the country prevent the spread of avian influenza in recent years.

To reduce primary school dropout, RTM participants pledged to work towards mobilising more resources for school food programmes as an incentive as well as the expansion of school block grants. At the same time, they agreed to give greater attention to low-cost but high impact intervention that can meaningfully address major causes of maternal mortality. The participants expressed their encouragement for deepening good governance by continuing efforts toward enhanced transparency, including during the national budget process.

Lastly, the meeting noted the need for greater space to encourage the participation of emerging donors in the development dialogue, creating new opportunities for civil society partners to participate effectively.

Footnote LIWG

The LIWG has made an effort to get its own views on land related issues into the Round Table Implementation Meeting of 2012. LIWG congratulates the Government of Lao PDR for suspending any new land concession for industrial tree plantations and mining operations until 2015. The LIWG would like to see this policy implemented for other sectors as well. However, some concerns remain. It is time to evaluate the policy of ‘turning land into capital’ and specifically to identify whose capital is being served with this policy. The on-going writing of the National Land Policy (NLP) is an excellent opportunity to strengthen land tenure for local communities. Next to respecting the rights of Lao citizens, this strengthening of tenure for local communities will contribute in achieving the Millennium Development Goals on food security and nutrition.

One of the main problems the LIWG identifies within the current draft of the NLP is that it specifically states that land can be forcibly taken from Lao citizens for any investment purpose. The LIWG position is that Lao citizens should have the right to refuse land concessions, except for specifically defined issues of public purposes. Many land conflicts take place in Laos but what is lacking is an effective conflict resolution mechanism. People are struggling to get fair compensation in case of land disputes. Access to legal aid is limited and the fear exists that people who do seek legal assistance to stand up for their rights are being pressured and accused of going against the governmental policy. The LIWG remains committed to support the efforts of all parties involved in drafting the new National Land Policy, and the LIWG and its members are also fully prepared to offer the same support to the revision of the Land Law.

The full LIWG Statement to the RTIM 2012 can be downloaded here in English and in Lao.

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