via CAAI News Media
The World Bank Inspection Panel began its investigation into the Bank-funded Land Management and Administration Project (LMAP) in Cambodia last week, following a complaint that World Bank safeguard policies were disregarded during the $28.8 million project, leading to more than 20,000 forced displacements.
The complaint was filed in September by the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), with the support of Bridges Across Borders Cambodia (BABC), on behalf of representatives of more than 4000 families living around Boeung Kak who have suffered or are currently threatened with forced eviction. It alleges that the Bank breached its operational policies by failing to adequately supervise the Land Management and Administration Project (LMAP), which denied land titles to the Boeung Kak families shortly before the area was leased by the Government to a private developer.
The LMAP was established with the stated aim of improving security of tenure for the poor and reducing land conflicts in Cambodia by systematically registering land and issuing titles across the country. However, a report released last year by BABC and COHRE found that land-grabbing and forced evictions have escalated significantly over the last ten years, while many vulnerable households have been arbitrarily excluded from the titling system. This exclusion has denied these households protection against land-grabbing and adequate compensation for their expropriated land, often thrusting them into conditions of extreme poverty.
Despite strong evidence to prove their legal rights to the land, Boeung Kak residents were excluded from the titling system when land registration was carried out in their neighbourhood in 2006. Shortly thereafter, the Cambodian Government granted an illegal 99-year lease over the area to Shukaku Inc, a company chaired by Lao Meng Khim, a Sentator from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and close associate of Prime Minister Hun Sen. Residents of the area covered by the lease – many of whom have lived lawfully in the area since the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979 - were suddenly accused by the Government of being illegal squatters on State-owned land.
The World Bank Inspection Panel is investigating whether the Bank breached its operational policies by failing to supervise the Government’s implementation of social and environmental safeguards tied to the project that were intended to ensure that a Boeung Kak scenario would not unfold. “These safeguards were essential for such a high-risk project in a country that is renowned for its lack of good governance and law enforcements,” said Bret Thiele, Senior Litigation Expert at COHRE.
The World Bank acknowledged in August 2009 that the safeguards had been breached and approached the Cambodian Government to discuss measures to bring the project back into compliance. The Government responded by abruptly ending its agreement with the World Bank on LMAP, citing the Bank’s “complicated conditions” as the reason for its move.
David Pred, Executive Director of BABC, highlighted similarities to a World Bank Inspection Panel case in Albania last year, in which a Bank-financed project was also implicated in forced evictions. At that time, World Bank President Robert Zoellick promised "the Bank would move promptly to strengthen oversight, improve procedures and help the [affected] families." Zoellick added that "the Bank cannot let this happen again."
“They let it happen again,” said Pred, “and this time it is 4000 families losing their homes. The Bank must find a way to repair the harms suffered by the people of Boeung Kak. Safeguard policies are not optional - if the Cambodian Government refuses to comply with its contractual obligations to respect these safeguards, then it should not be entitled to any new financing from the World Bank.”