Vientiane Times, 26 July, 2013
Compensation for lands taken for development projects topped debate in parliament yesterday with law-makers stating that affected people should receive reasonable compensation in order to address the emerging land dispute issue. Members of the National Assembly (NA) are debating to develop the draft National Land Policy at the assembly’s fifth ordinary session of the NA’s Seventh Legislature.
Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Dr Akhom Tounalom, gave a presentation on the draft process to the NA, opening the floor for debate. The parliamentarians welcomed the draft policy, which indicates that compensation for those lands taken for commercial projects will be based on market prices, while those whose lands are required for public projects will receive reasonable compensation.
Some NA members noted that the current Land Law and Prime Ministerial Decree, which states that those whose lands are appropriated for development projects must receive reasonable compensation, is still not clear enough. An NA member for Bokeo province, Lieutenant Colonel Channuan Uankhanachak, said land concessions, notably for foreign investment projects, had deleterious effects on local people and the disadvantaged. He recommended that the compensation policy needs to be clearly defined. Meanwhile an NA member for Bolikhamxay province, Mr Bounseng Pathammavong, also said such issues have been emerging in his province, especially among local people who have no official land title documents.
Many NA members said local people who have no land titles have always been disadvantaged when land disputes arise due to land concessions, and noted that the government is slow on work to issue land titles to people in local communities who lack them currently. Although without land title, “Ownership of land use rights of people who have inherited it from their parents should be recognised,” said an NA member for Luang namtha province, Mr Kongphet Keobouapha.
Some members noted that although the current Land Law and Prime Ministerial Decree stipulates that those concerned must offer reasonable compensation, many affected people received unreasonably low compensation, which is driving the emerging issue of land disputes. Yesterday’s session welcomed the stipulation as indicated in the draft policy that requires the involvement of affected people in the compensation negotiation process and that the compensation given requires agreement from the affected people.
If approved, the new policy will be the first ever which clearly states the occupiers of land which is appropriated for investment projects must provide compensation that is equivalent to the market price. However, observers remain cautious, citing the unavailability of information on market prices, making them difficult to identify, which could leave loopholes for avoiding paying reasonable compensation.
In addition, senior land expert, Mr Nuphanh Mahaphonh, suggested the difference between public and commercial projects needs to be defined clearly in order to avoid loopholes from developing. Mr Nuphanh, a former Director General of the Policy and Land Use Inspection Department of former National Land Management Authority, gave an example that a hospital or school built by the government is definitely a public project, but if they are built by investors they should be defined as being for commercial purposes as they are investing for profit. He said that it has happened in the past, that investors have tried to claim their projects as public projects in order to minimise compensation.
The draft policy will not be approved by this session as it will be canvassed by various groups of people including local people, according to the policy drafting committee. The committee aims to re-submit the draft for debate to seek approval in the next session, which is expected to take place in December. The NA members are also scheduled to debate measures on the management of forest and agricultural plantation areas in order to develop the draft policy.