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

Land title issuance still far below target

Vientiane Times, 13 June, 2013

The issuance of land titles continues to fall far short of the target set, says a senior government official, with changes in organisational structure and financial constraints cited as the two main reasons for the slow progress. The government has set a target to issue one million land titles over the five-year period from 2011-2015, but this looks ambitious considering a total of just over 100,000 titles have been issued over the past six years as calculated by Vientiane Times based on information provided by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MoNRE).

So far, around 700,000 titles have been issued over the past 16 years since the issuance programme began back in 1997. Of the total number, more than 600,000 titles were issued during the first ten years, meaning that only about 100,000 titles have been issued over the past six years. The ambitious target of one million titles is set in the 7th five-year National Socio-economic Development Plan (2011- 2015) as stipulated by the 9th Party Congress’s resolution, the ministry official confirmed.

Head of MoNRE’s Planning and Land Management Division, Mr Chanthala Chanthilath told the Vientiane Times yesterday that a larger target has been set, but the work to issue titles has been progressing slowly in recent years compared to what it was in the beginning.Mr Chanthala explained that more funding was allocated to carry out work at the beginning of the programme, when title issuance was financed through a low-interest-rate loan provided by the World Bank, which hastened the process somewhat.

Slower process was also attributed to organisational change – at the beginning, the issuance of land titles was overseen by the Ministry of Finance, before being assigned to the former National Land Management Authority and then finally to MoNRE, which currently oversees the process.

“We have had to form new teams again and again after changes were made to the overall organisational structure,” he said, explaining that previous staff were reassigned to new positions in different departments, meaning experience was lost. “The issuance of titles has been progressing notably slower in recent years as we are recruiting and training our new team members since we moved under the auspices of MoNRE in 2011,” Mr Chanthala confirmed.

However, he was confident that the pace of work will quicken as the new staff are trained up and better prepared to carry out their jobs. There have been public allegations that officials in charge have been charging unreasonably high fees for providing land title services. In this regard, Mr Chanthala responded that the ministry has produced guidelines detailing the unit costs for legal service fees that members of the public can calculate by themselves, which are available from village and district authorities. He called on members of the public to blow the whistle on malpractice within the administration process.

National Assembly (NA) members have expressed concern over the slow progress of title issuance, after learning that many local villagers have no land titles when required to give up their lands to make way for development projects.

In cases where land is required for development, local people receive unreasonably low compensation in the absence of land titles. NA members welcomed the newly-drafted National Land Policy last week, which recognises the ownership rights of people who have inherited land for generations, even though they have no official land titles to speak of. They discussed the draft policy last week in Vientiane province before submitting the final draft for debate and approval at the NA’s 5th ordinary session scheduled to take place early next month.

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