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

New law requires displaced villagers to be compensated within two years

Vientiane Times, 26th October 2018


President Bounnhang Vorachit recently promulgated a new law requiring developers to compensate people displaced by a project within 24 months or two years after a compensation plan is approved.
But implementation of the plan can be extended for another year after approval from a committee in charge of settlement and job provision, according to Article 22 of the law on settlement and job provision.
The law was passed by the National Assembly’s fifth Ordinary Session in June this year.
Project developers are required to provide an area of settlement land in compensation for legitimate land appropriated by projects in accordance with defined compensation. If appropriate land cannot be sourced, compensation in other forms is acceptable in line with the defined compensation.
The law’s provisions also stipulate compensation for people who inherited land from their parents or other relatives without a land title, as long as the inheritance was certified by local authorities.
Land without a title and claimed inherited land without certification from the authorities will not be compensated with land but residents will be reimbursed for buildings, houses, crops and trees.
The loss of other assets such as buildings, houses, crops and trees will also be compensated. But structures built after people were officially warned not to do so because of a planned development project will not be compensated for.
Villagers who do not wish to relocate to a settlement area arranged by the government or project developers can opt for other forms of compensation.
Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Dr Lien Thikeo, told the National Assembly in June that the new law with comprehensive provisions will enable the government to regulate and develop settlement affairs also known as Stabilisation of Settlement and Livelihood (SSL) in a uniform manner.
Previously, many regulations were used as legal guidance for SSL with measures, methods and standards in implementation varying, which made it hard to centralise the management of SSL. Each state body was working individually so that the compensation paid to displaced villagers by different projects varied, Dr Lien said.
Under the new law, the settlement must reflect the interests of those affected and be undertaken in a just, open and transparent manner with the involvement of all parties including the affected villagers.
The new law categorises settlements into two types – those for people displaced by a development project, and those for people living in hardship or at-risk areas including places where conditions are not favourable for development and frequently face the threat of natural disasters.
Settlements for villagers displaced by a development project fall under the responsibility of the project developers, while the government is responsible for settlements for villagers relocating from hardship areas.
Both types of settlement require the government or project developers to build and provide the necessary infrastructure, basic facilities and public services in new settlement communities.
Resettled villagers must be enable to enjoy similar or better living conditions compared to their previous communities.
The newcomers will also be provided with skills training to help them earn a living along with the provision of essential assistance during the transition period. This will include food and equipment so they can survive and adapt to their lives in the new location.
However, observers noted that the law’s provisions might not fully address common issues arising when awarding compensation, such as the slow payment of compensation and villagers’ claims that the compensation is unreasonably low.
Although the law stipulates that compensation must be made within 24 months after the compensation plan is approved, it does not specify when the plan should be drawn up and how long it should take.
The Laos-China railway project is a case in point in which construction began some time ago but villagers have not yet received compensation as the compensation plan has not been completed.
Additionally, previous reports suggested that many displaced villagers refused to accept the compensation offered.
They said the money offered by the development projects was unreasonably low, despite the regulations stipulating that displaced villagers should enjoy better living conditions.

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