Vientiane Times, 8 August 2014
Policy developers are exploring ways to deal with land disputes and precautionary measures to prevent issues from arising in the wake of land leases and concessions for investment projects. Representatives from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Ministry of Planning and Investment and their provincial departments along with officials from the Ministry of Home Affairs met yesterday in Vientiane to discuss possible solutions.
Experts from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) were invited to share lessons on various land-related topics including economic appraisal techniques for state land concessions and leases, as well as social and gender risk assessment for state land concessions and leases.
In his opening remarks at the two-day workshop, Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Mr Sisavath Vithaxay said there were several issues that had emerged associated with land concessions and leases. Land concessions and leases for investment projects had encroached conservation and protected forest areas on numerous occasions, he explained. Worse, the concessions and leases of land have also encroached residential areas and farmlands of local people that resulted in the affected villagers submitting petitions to relevant authorities requesting that the issues be addressed, Mr Sisavath said. “This has caused social and environmental impacts,” he acknowledged at the meeting.
In addition, there were cases which suggested that the approval of land concessions and leases had been duplicated, meaning that one piece of land was approved for two separate projects by different authorities. Some cases also suggested that the content of land concession agreements for mineral excavation projects was not comprehensive making it difficult to address land-related issues that occurred at a later date, he added.
Experience has shown that officials in charge of approving land concessions have failed to assess the value of existing natural resources on that land before granting approval such as natural forests, biodiversity values or the historical or natural charm of a particular area. Mr Sisavath stated that such issues had occurred due to the fact that guidelines, policies, regulations and laws concerning land concessions and leases had not been fully implemented. Central and local authorities have not effectively coordinated their respective works when it comes to the management of concessions and leases.
Previous cases suggested that granting land concessions and leases without undertaking a prior survey of the land has contributed to the rise in land disputes, the deputy minister acknowledged. He called for the participants to undertake collective discussions in order to explore possible solutions to address the land concession and lease related issues. The workshop on leases and concessions for domestic and foreign investment is being organised by the Department of Land Administration under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, with the support of the ADB.
The outcomes of the workshop will contribute to preparations to amend the Prime Ministerial Decree on Land Concessions and Leases. At present, officials in charge are drafting the National Land Policy, which is expected to incorporate possible solutions to land disputes. Officials said once the policy was approved and promulgated, it would provide guidance to amendments to the existing Law on Land.