Vientiane Times, 25 April 2015.
A senior official at the National Assembly (NA) has asserted that the content of the draft National Land Policy has no problems, despite the fact it has been put on hold and has not been yet approved by the NA. The drafted policy, which stipulates reasonable compensation based on market prices whenever people’s lands are affected by investment projects, was submitted to the NA’s fifth ordinary session in July 2013 for debate. But it was not approved by the then session.
Observers noted that the content of the draft, especially the part which requires market-price-based compensation for private lands affected by investment projects, could have delayed the approval process and further discussion on the matter may be needed. Chairwoman of the NA’s Committee for Economic, Planning and Finance Dr Souvanpheng Bouphanouvong confirmed that the content has no problem and it has been agreed in principle following the NA’s debates. The reason that the drafted policy has not been approved is due to land issues being among the issues mentioned in the drafting of amendments to the Lao constitution, which is currently taking place. This means the constitution must be first approved then further debated before approval can be given to the draft land policy, she explained. Dr Souvanpheng gave an interview to local media during her attendance to the three-day government meeting which ended yesterday. A draft of the amended constitution is set to be submitted to the NA’s ordinary session scheduled to take place in June and once it is approved, laws and policies are required to be in line with the constitution. She reiterated that there were no changes to core issues mentioned in the content of the drafted policy including the market-price-based compensation for private lands affected by development projects. “There is no change to the core principles [in the draft],” he told the local media.
If approved, the new policy will be the first ever which clearly states that the occupiers of land which is appropriated for investment projects must provide compensation that is equivalent to the market price. Officials were optimistic that once the new policy comes into force, it would serve as an instrument to address land disputes, which have been amongst the biggest emerging issues in recent years. However, observers remain cautious, citing the unavailability of information on market prices, making it difficult to identify the accurate market price of lands, which could leave loopholes for avoiding paying reasonable compensation. According to the draft presented for NA debate in 2013, the compensation process must be carried out with transparency and openness and include the involvement of the affected landholders and residents.