Land should not be revoked for private investor projects: UNDP expert

As published in VietNamNet in 11/2012

One of weaknesses of Vietnam’s Land Law is the government's involvement revoking land for private investor projects, said UNDP Policy Advisor for Rule of Law and Access to Justice, Nicholas Booth.

“The State should only confiscate land for public projects such as new infrastructure works, but not for the benefit of private investors,” he added, noting that most foreign countries only withdraw land for issues related to national interests such as those stipulated in the Vietnamese 1992 Constitution.  

The expert also emphasised that Vietnam’s current Land Law is not fair to farmers. They are allowed to hire land for agricultural development for just 20 years; meanwhile, urban residents can use their land for an unlimited time. Many farmers are banned from changing the use of their land.

When land is revoked, compensations for farmers are often based on local appraisals of land prices. In fact, the compensation levels are often lower than their real value, pushing farmers into poverty, while offering opportunities for investors to get rich and bribe officials. This explains why up to 70% of land-related complaints are problems related to compensation and withdrawal of land.

Independent agency needed

He suggested that Vietnam needs to ensure transparency and people’s participation in land planning and withdrawal, citing the Provincial Governance and Public Administration Performance Index (PAPI) conducted by UNDP in 2011 as saying that eight among 10 Vietnamese people do not know about land planning in their localities. Only one among five said that they had a chance to express their opinion on the land planning, meanwhile, two thirds complained that they do not know whom to meet to ask about official land prices.

According to the UNDP expert, land prices for compensation should be assessed by independent agencies or direct negotiations with farmers, not by officials. Farmers must also be treated as equally as urban residents in terms of land use.  

The PAPI also indicated that only 9% of Vietnamese people believe that the compensation they got for land withdrawal was equal to the real land prices.
 
HCM City’s application of an independent land price appraisal system for revoking land for projects is a good step to curb land-related complaints, he said.
 
Vietnam needs to increase transparency in granting land ownership certificates to mitigate corruption. The PAPI showed that up to one fifth of Vietnamese people admitted that they had to pay bribes to receive basic documents such as land ownership certificates.