Land governance in Cambodia is a major concern for many actors from government, private sector and civil society groups. On the government side, various ministries are involved in land governance, with varying degrees of impact and involvement. The actors are not restricted to Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction (MLMUPC), which is responsible for land administration, land distribution, and land management. Other ministries have had a very large impact on land policy and its implementation. For example, the role of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) in granting and managing economic land concessions (ELC) has been very significant and has de facto resulted in expropriating large numbers of smallholder farmers and indigenous people with customary rights. The Ministry of Environment (MOE) has the jurisdiction for the conservation of the protected areas that also cover the customary tenure of the local communities.
Land governance issues in Cambodia can be divided into two categories:
- The quality of the legal framework itself. While the legislation is overall quite good, with attention to the recognition of indigenous people customary tenure, there needs to be stronger coherence among different laws and relevant sub-decrees.
- The quality of institution and law enforcement. Observers and researchers agree that there is a vast gap between the official policy and the legal system on one hand and the implementation on the other. In the instance where the legislation is valid, its materialisation on the ground is either very slow or inconsistent with the legal and policy framework. It is well known that most Economic Land Concession granting has not followed the sub-decree provisions, and thus do not fully comply with the legal framework. Yet there is no venue for citizens to contest these land allocations in front of an administrative court in Cambodia.
As a regional project with a small Cambodia–based team, MRLG looks for strategic opportunities to engage with and support reform actors to pursue collective actions towards improved access to land and secure resource tenure. Its strategy is based on a combination of political opportunities and partner interests.
In Cambodia, MRLG considers that the two main opportunities for engaging with the government and civil society for improved policies and practices at this moment are the question of the reallocation of cancelled economic land concessions (and solving conflicts in existing ELCs, and the recognition of customary rights.
Given the landscape of the land governance sector, there are needs for funding innovative activities, both for local civil society organisations and also with interested government partners. Yet there is an even greater need to promote collective actions and learning initiatives around areas of common interest. As such, MRLG will add value through the facilitation of collective multi-stakeholders learning and alliance initiatives, in which Quick Disbursement Fund (QDF) and Investment Fund (IF) partners will be encouraged to take an active part, as well as government partners.
It will focus in Cambodia on three priorities:
- Regulation and reallocation of Large-Scale Land Acquisitions and promotion of responsible agricultural investment (including solving conflicts on existing ELCs)This will involve advocating for the regulation and reallocation of [cancelled] ELCs to communities and landless or land-poor farmers. There will also be scope to engage with the private sector in advocating responsible agricultural investment.
- Improving the recognition of customary tenure rights for the indigenous peoples and all farmers. MRLG does not restrict the recognition of customary rights to indigenous peoples. There are many cases of customary rights and practices with the Khmer villages concerning fisheries, flooded forests, pasture areas and so on. Therefore it will aim at improving both the recognition of customary rights of indigenous peoples (through the communal land titling mechanism) and also of other customary rights in protected areas and forest areas. Part of this strategy involves strengthening local communities to defend their customary rights and improve conflict transformation mechanisms. Past experience has shown that when communities are well organised and informed about their rights, they are better able to react to investment proposals that might affect their tenure rights and livelihood. It is therefore important to build capacity in this area as a background of any future development.
- Engaging with the government and engaging in policy dialogue In terms of government engagement, MRLG feels its engagement with government has to be flexible and pro-active. The first step is to establish a formal contact and dialogue with some key ministries, and to get their own view on what are their needs and what are the potential areas for cooperation. MRLG will also seize opportunities for supporting policy improvement whenever opportunities arise because a law or decree is being revised and public consultation is organised. Where appropriate and possible, MRLG will seek to engage and strengthen the existing networks or platforms for policy dialogues. Also, where the government indicates interest in a new policy dialogue mechanism, MRLG shall be flexible to support a government-led platform for a multi-stakeholder dialogue.