Friday, October 24, 2008

Cambodian Property Speculators

At a dinner recently an English expat who is married to a Cambodia woman disagreed with me for petitioning to stop the Beong Kak Lake evictions. His argument is that the Cambodians who are being forcibly removed from the lake have no legal right to the land in the first place, so what is there to petition about? It turns out this expat owns quite a number of parcels of land around Cambodia and has been upset to find squatters on his land on numerous occasions--one of which has been turned into a car wash.

In fact, under Cambodia's 2001 Land Law (Article 30), occupation of land for five years or more offers strong claims of ownership (it is 12 years in Singapore, if I am not wrong, the same for the UK, since Singapore follows the British legal system in large parts, although I have to say I have not been able to verify this online). It is called "Squatter's Rights".

Article 30: Any person who, for no less than five years prior to the promulgation of this law, enjoyed peaceful, uncontested possession of immovable property that can lawfully be privately possessed, has the right to request a definitive title of ownership.

Of course, as Amnesty International points out, having the right to request a definitive title and actually getting title are two quite different things. Poor people usually don't know their rights, much less understand or have the means to go through the process of acquiring a title deed. You can read more about Cambodian land law and its problems here.

I have no sympathy for land speculators--they're just gamblers.

More importantly, land speculation causes problems for this country. Three reasons: it creates a lot of unproductive land, land which could otherwise be used instead of just left "sitting there" waiting for the price to rise; ordinary people are priced out of the market; and finally, it contributes to land grabbing by the rich and powerful.

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