Land law dropped after PM’s rejection

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Land law dropped after PM’s rejection


08 December 2017

A controversial draft agricultural land law in Cambodia has been dropped after it was declared incomprehensible by the Prime Minister.

According to a report in the Phnom Penh Post earlier in November, the Cambodian Ministry of Agriculture announced the suspension of a controversial draft law to regulate the agricultural sector, just hours after Prime Minister Hun Sen tore into the proposed law and called publicly on the ministry to “drop it”.

Prime Minister Hun Sen told workers in a speech that he had read about the law in a newspaper and “did not understand it”, the Phnom Peng Post said.

The draft law, first revealed by the ministry in 2011, has been heavily criticised by farmers and civil society organisations, who say it gives the ministry too much power to grant farmland to private investors, seize land from farmers, and control the types of crops they grow.

The Prime Minister’s announcement follows extensive campaigning by the NGO Forum on Cambodia, an umbrella organisation with dozens of local and international NGOs as members.

In December 2016, the NGO Forum, in cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, held a national consultation workshop on the Draft Cambodian Agricultural Land Law.

As part of this workshop, the Mekong Region Land Governance (MRLG) project funded an independent senior legal expert, George Cooper, to assist in a legal review of the draft law.

Based on the review by Mr Cooper, the NGO Forum highlights the five most important recommendations in its letter to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, including a call to drop the draft law as there was no urgency for adopting the current draft, that would invite controversy when implemented. As an alternative, the letter suggested the Ministry consider first adopting a National Policy on Agricultural Land Estate and then an Agricultural Land Estate Management and Use Strategic Plan (respectively called for in article 11 and 12 of the draft 6), and then this law.

The NGO Forum, in the letter, made its position clear that should the Ministry go ahead with this draft law, the proposed five recommendations should be addressed and reflected in the next draft, and that the draft’s basic approach be changed “from one of imposing rules and penalties to one of providing assistance, advice and incentives for farmers”.

In the Phnom Penh Post report, a representative of another opposing voice, the Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community, Chea Sopheak, defended the role of NGOs in educating farmers about the law.
“[The Premier] rightly said that NGOs are behind us, but the NGOs just help with legal and technical advice because we are not knowledgeable,” Sopheak said.
“If we did not ask for their help, [the government] could oppress as they wish.”