The World Bank’s inspection arm will conduct an inquiry into a land administration project, following complaints that the plan failed to protect the land rights of residents around the Boeung Kak lake development.
The Center of Housing Rights and Eviction says the $23.4-million Land Management and Administration Project failed to register land titles for the lake residents and in fact weakened their rights to customary land ownership.
The center requested an inquiry last year, and in a final report on the World Bank Web site, the Inspection Panel said the request warranted an investigation to assess management’s compliance with World Bank policies and procedures “and related issues of harm” with the project.
“The Panel would need to conduct an appropriate review of all relevant facts and applicable policies and procedures,” the report concludes. “This can only be done in the context of an investigation of the issues of compliance and harm raised by the Request.”
Some 4,000 families in the Boeung Kak community, the majority of them impoverished, face eviction from their land around the lake, which is slated for residential and commercial development by Shikaku, Inc. Some of them say they have lived in the area for 20 years.
The Center of Housing Rights and Eviction, which filed the complaint on behalf of the residents, welcomed the decision, but urged immediate action.
“The housing rights of hundreds of families are at stake at this very moment,” Salih Booker, the group’s executive director, said in a statement Friday.
World Bank officials have previously met with government officials, including within the Phnom Penh municipality, to address the concerns of Boeung Kak residents, but so far the sides have not been able to break the impasse.
Some residents say they have received fair compensation for moving, while others say they don’t want to move to a relocation site on the far outskirts of the capital.
Nonn Theany, director general of the Ministry of Land Management, the key government partner in the land management project, said the World Bank had a right to inspection but should inspect “its own staff.”
“The government has already terminated our partnership on the LMAP project,” she said.
The government ended the program in late 2009, claiming it contained too many conditions. Nonn Theavy said when the government worked with the World Bank on the project, “they didn’t say how we were doing.”
“But when there was an inspection team coming, they would just find our faults,” she said. “We had annual evaluation reports. Only recently, when an NGO spoke out about the eviction at Boeung Kak lake, they linked the work to that case.”
The project could only register undisputed land, she said.
“When we saw a disputed piece of land with the ownership not clearly determined, we had to skip that place,” she said.
David Pred, Cambodia’s director for Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia, which works with the lake residents, said the Cambodian government had “walked away from these families and refused to partner with the World Bank to find a positive solution for them.”
“The Bank cannot walk away from these families now just because the government has closed the door,” he said. “The Bank has a moral and a legal responsibility to provide reparations to the people it has acknowledged have been harmed by this project. This is an important test of the accountability of the World Bank.”