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

Draft land policy offers market-price compensation

Vientiane Times, 10 June, 2013

A newly-drafted land policy offers compensation based on current market prices to those who lose their land to commercial projects, National Assembly (NA) members have learned. This is the first ever policy to clearly state that the occupiers of land which is appropriated for investment projects must be given financial compensation that is equivalent to the market price.

The draft policy is set to be debated and approved at the National Assembly’s fifth ordinary session, scheduled for early next month. Once it is approved and promulgated, the new policy will be a reference for the amendment of related laws and legal documents to ensure they align with the new policy, Chairman of the NA’s Economic, Planning and Finance Committee, Dr Souvanpheng Bouphanouvong, said on Friday.

Dr Souvanpheng presented the draft policy for NA members to discuss and develop at a four-day meeting in Thalath, Vientiane province, in the run-up to the Assembly’s July session. “The Land Law will be amended in line with the policy,” Dr Souvanpheng told the Vientiane Times . “The law is expected to be debated and approved at the sixth ordinary session of the National Assembly at the end of this year.”

The draft policy states that the government is required to provide reasonable compensation to people whose land is needed for public projects such as road construction, which is not considered to be a commercial venture. Dr Souvanpheng said that in such cases the compensation paid would be less than the market price, saying that land occupiers are required to contribute to projects that are in the public interest. “However, the details will be discussed more specifically when the Land Law is amended,” she added.

The government is mandated to carry out the compensation process and transfer land use rights in a transparent and open manner, according to the draft policy. People whose land is required for investment projects must be involved in compensation negotiations and must agree to the amount paid, the policy stipulates.

National Assembly members welcomed the draft policy, which also states that the government, other relevant sectors and the people affected should discuss various options to ensure that those who lose their land have better living conditions as a result of the compensation they receive. This aims to protect the rights and interests of citizens as indicated in the Lao constitution and laws.

Parliamentarians praised the draft policy, which recognises the ownership rights of people who have inherited land for generations, even though they have no land title.

Many NA members noted that the government has yet to complete the issuance of land titles and observed that this work is progressing slowly, meaning that many people still have no land title. In this context, they said it was illogical to evict people from their land when it is required for an investment project and give them unreasonably low compensation after claiming they have no land title.

NA member Professor Dr Phonthep Pholsena referred to public comments that some people have paid as much as about 7.5 million kip (30,000 Thai baht) to officials for special treatment in issuing land titles, but observed that such an amount was beyond the means of poor people. Parliamentarians said that when the policy becomes law or is cemented in the form of other legislation, loopholes that enable any party to take advantage of the situation must be removed. This was essential to address the many pressing land disputes.

The NA noted that although the existing Land Law states that when people’s land is needed for a development project they must be given reasonable compensation, in many cases it has emerged that people have received unreasonably low compensation. This has triggered disputes. Critics say that the definition of ‘reasonable compensation’ as defined in the law is unclear, which creates loopholes that lead to unfair treatment.

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