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Wednesday, 19 June 2013 15:18
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People’s ownership of land: inevitable but needs content renewal in actualization

In recent years, in many forums contributing ideas for the 1992 Constitution and Laws on Land, there have been debates over how the land ownership mechanism should be designed in the country. Many advocate the private ownership of land. Others support various types of ownerships of land. The majority remain the ownership of land belongs to the people (meaning jointly owned by all Vietnamese people), given a more effective mechanism is introduced in the actualisation process. The author supports the people’s ownership of land and against the private ownership of land or the diversification of land ownerships, for the following reasons:

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Private land ownership in the market economy will inevitably deepen the gaps between the rich and the poor, which means while many people own too much land, others have no single square metre. This was concluded by Karl Mark over 100 years ago which has been confirmed by the capitalist economic development. The gap between the rich and the poor in capitalist countries has confirmed the theory. For this reason, the socialist (who pursuit an equal society where people are not only free and equal politically but also free and equal economically, therefore being free and equal socially) support a common ownership (jointly owned rather than state-owned) of the main production tools. However, in view of the support for effective use of land (which is measured according to the income that land owners earn) (1), it is argued that people’s ownership of land has led to a fact the land has no owner, and without owners, the land is not used effectively. It is also argued that as the land is owned by the people, the civil transactions are not possible to be established, which has made the transactions with regards to land in the country are not consistent with the international standards, which has led to litigations where a foreign partner is involved. Those who advocate for private ownership also argue that the State is incapable of managing land, therefore, the government is obviously a bad manager of land on behalf of the people. However we do not believe this is obvious. If the government can not manage common property on behalf of the society, socialism then does not exist, and a stable country shall not exist either. Therefore what needs to be discussed is to improve the managing skill of the government on land.

Those who advocate the various types of ownerships of land seem to be more plausible when suggesting the types of ownership reflects the different purposes in the use of land. They believe land for residence and farming are attached to the people as part of their property long term, therefore, private ownership should be applied to help encourage the maintenance, and effective investment as guided by the market economy and limit the abuse of the government in allocation or withdrawal of land. However, the suggestion does not take into account the gap between the rich and the poor as mentioned above, for the reason that land for residence and farming makes up most the land area of the country and are often-litigated. Further more for a country to be sustainable, food security must be ensured, effective use of total land area should be master planned, therefore land transactions can only be allowed with a proper plan. On the other hand, land is a special product, the right of the owner is limited in many aspects, therefore the land market can not regulate effectively the allocation of land in many fields. This is let alone the general problems of the any market which makes it as not perfect as those who support the free market may have expected. Also according to the various types of ownerships, the land area which is jointly used by a community traditionally, or according to the needs of the local people, should be granted community ownership (or collective ownership). With this regards, it was true in the past that some communities protected their forests, rivers or lakes effectively, thanks to voluntary agreements. However, nowadays even among religious people, their religion is not strong enough to overcome the human greed, especially with the free right to reside and international exchanges, evil minded people may take advantage of the common ownership to take over the land field and transfer it, which makes litigation in land becomes very complicated.  How can this belief stands while supporters of this opinion disbelieve in a powerful state with laws, courts and armed forces to help deal with land transactions while believe in the power of a community with strong spirit?!

For land of common use such as roads, parks, offices and used land etc, supporters of various ownerships believe it should be owned by the government (meaning owned by the authority) and the government has the right to trade according to market price.

In this sense, supporters of diversification of ownerships believe that land, together with its property, the major accumulated source of wealth of a country often accounts for more than 50% of the wealth of a country (in developing countries this can make up 70%) will be owned by different people, treating each other purely on interests, trading based on market values like what is happening in many capitalist countries. So what is socialism, where equality is one of the goals of the Communist Party?

With the ideas to support people’s ownership of land, we believe that the improvement in the living standards of working people is a must on which based the choice making. If we are not persistent with this approach, we will be in a maze of arguments over the effectiveness with market oriented, the group interest of a certain minority group under the cover of a terminology such as creating opportunity for business, and about the imaginary limited ability of the socialist State.

The support for people’s ownership of land is based on the following arguments:

land

is the legacy accumulated through out the history of national building and defence which must not be owned by a lucky group of people in the market.

land

is the property which belongs to the people, therefore the government or local authorities are not allowed to transfer it to the foreign partners at will.

First, land is the legacy accumulated through out the history of national building and defence which must not be owned by a lucky group of people in the market. Much land area is defined by laws for public use, such as for roads, parks, docking beach for boats/ships of fishermen, lakes, river currents and other public places, or places reserved for national security and defence. Law enforcement agencies should be competent so that nobody can abuse the land. Land of common use does not mean state agencies can divide it up or offer anyone at a random. The decision on privatising part of the land for common use must be done through referendum. Similarly, private land needs an approval from the people should it be transformed into for public use, and this should be discussed fairly with the current land users.

Further more, land is the property which belongs to the people, therefore the government or local authorities are not allowed to transfer it to the foreign partners at will. If the regulations on land ownership is not strict, especially land for production with foreign partners involved, the threat of losing land due to the market economy can become real and our struggle for national independence will be eliminated under the power of money. Vietnamese people would not expect a foreigner-owned street area in Hanoi, where Vietnamese people are not able to travel freely. If we allow foreigners to buy land and property freely, people who have much money and those who benefit from the official exchange rate which makes the exchange rate for Vietnam Dong high, will easily take over much land in the country. Once they are owners of the land, they will make barriers to Vietnamese people.

Second, common ownership creates conditions for labourers to have access to land freely. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the (old) socialist Eastern Europe bloc, many people do not believe in socialism, they even think Vietnam should drop the term “socialism orientated” in socialism oriented market economy. However, the essence is socialism is neither fixed to the government - command economy nor the equal distribution mechanism. Socialism is based on the respect for labour, that labour creates the human society, creates wealth and better life for mankind. Therefore, labour is glory, it is immoral to enjoy the results from the labour of someone else. The majority of labourers should be the masters of the society, which is self organised in the civic society, in a volunteering, equally and cooperated manner. Socialism orientation is the best choice to realise those desires in life. However, there are two sides of the coins in each individual person, which are the greed desire (when the demand is not yet met, one might want to enjoy the bigger part of the created wealth and if a number of people take more than the rest, they will become richer than the rest) and the responsibility (willing to share wealth to the poorer). The same is applied to the love for labour and the laziness; disciplined an rebellious… Therefore, a common code of conduct is needed as well as a system for people to follow. Such a system is the State. When a State institution and individuals who operate such institution do not follow what is entrusted by the people, they can be dismissed or the whole system can be altered. Therefore, the Constitution amendment should be agreed by the entire people. Other key laws of the country should be available for people to comment.

In that sense, people’s ownership of land does not mean the State owns it (and this applies to other kind of ownerships by people as well). The people should be defined as citizens of a country, (rather than foreigners) and the system which represents them which take the responsibility of land ownership according to the Constitution and laws. We believe that land ownership should be approached from the rights of ownership available (it should be noted that such rights are not fixed, rather they change according to the characteristics of the owners) and the rights are allocated properly to the people and the managing agency. The allocation can be briefed as follows:

Land area for common use shall not be used by any individual or groups for their own benefits.  The state on behalf of the society shall strictly observe that  and the State is not allowed to use or give the right to use land of common use against the laws.

Land area for common

use shall not be used by any individual or groups for their own benefits.  The state on behalf of the society shall strictly observe that  and the State is not allowed to use or give the right to use land of common use against the laws.

Land area for common use among a community (such as green areas, local roads…) should be given to local authorities to manage for the local use. The local authority is not allowed to give the land to any individuals for private use.

Land for offices given to State and Party agencies shall be used for public use only. If the State and Party agencies are no longer in need to use the land, it should be returned for the public use according to the laws. The land is not available for sale on the market, unless it is transferred to people’s use and to raise the state budget.

The majority land if used by the people (not given by the State as mistakenly understood) with all the rights such as occupation, use, transfer on the land market, inherit and mortgage.  This is a legitimate right within the concept of “people’s ownership”. It should be emphasised here that the people is the masters and therefore they have the right to decide what the State can do, not vice versa as in the current Laws on land which stipulate that the State has the right to give the people some certain rights on their lands. People should be able to hold most rights, leaving the State with some certain rights which include the right to make master plans in such a way that individual plans do not interfere with the national plans. The State should monitor the people’s use of land to make sure detrimental effects on the common interests are not exerted on by individual actions; protect legitimate rights of the people on the land as specified by laws; preserve the national integrity against foreign invasion. Of course people support the State financially through paying taxes.

In such a sense, people’s ownership of land is not “an obscure term which is not feasible”, nor it is a term adopted rigidly from the former Soviet Union. People’s ownership of land serves as a legal basis where the labourers can protect their rights. The current laws on lands have given too many rights to the State agencies and local authorities, which has abused the rights for the benefits of certain groups, violating the rights of citizens on lands (which affects farmers the worst who need lands most). This should be amended in a way that  people give State the rights on land , not the State gives people the land. If this principle is agreed we can discuss further which rights should be given to the Central State and which rights to the local authorities for the best use of land. In this understanding, the State shall not be able to withdraw the land from a person to offer another, in fact the people are the ones who can transfer their use of land according to the plannings and the market.  The State shall not have the right to fix the land prices, unless it is in the form of taxes.

Third, people’s ownership creates conditions for the State to protect the labours best. The errors committed by state agencies over land over the past time can be corrected. The key issue is that a monitoring system should be designed in a way to supervise the State so as it acts as a socialist State. The Communist Party and Political - Social organisations should be responsible for regulating the State in that. The Communist Party is the leaders of the labours, acting on the rights of labourers. If the Communist Party fails to this task, their reputation shall be adversely affected.

Especially, the Constitution and Laws should stipulate the people’s rights on their access to information on lands so that they can practice their rights of monitoring. This should not be understood as the State is doing a favour, rather  it is the State’s responsibility to provide the people with information (through the National Assembly and mass media agencies) so that the people can supervise the State.

Fourth,  practically the people’s ownership of land in the current situation is to a way to maintain the economic and social stabilisation. The privatisation of land will give rise to debates over land use in the past. It would be better if we can maintain the current condition for better conditions, in which the rights of the people on and is protected, the society shall not fall into unrest. Land issues should be dealt with over the time with the aims to protect labourers. Constitution and laws on land can be adjusted, but the prospect of a nation on its path towards the prosperous society shall not be altered. It is the way towards socialism.

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