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Friday, 22 January 2016 09:20
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Causes of land conflicts in Vietnam

(LLCT) - Management of land conflicts is one of the important tasks of the Party, State, and the entire society in order to maintain political stability, social safety and civilian security, it is the key to achieve developmental goals. Since 1997, when the “hot spot” issue occurred in Thai Binh province, land-related issues have been the main type of social conflicts in Vietnam, hence a focus of public attention. Of Vietnam’s politico-social hot spots, 70 percent of them are primarily caused by land conflicts. It is noteworthy that this percentage has remained almost the same over the last two decades. Obviously, causes of social conflicts and politico-social hot spots in the country have not been accurately identified.

-There are different approaches to this issue and a few explanations have been put forward. A group of researchers from the Institute of Political Studies of the Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics while carrying out their study “Land conflicts in Vietnam” suggested the following main reasons:

1. Shortcomings of policies and laws on land

Laws on land for a long time have avoided identifying certain land-related issues, resulting in a number of unsolved cases and different applications of the law among provinces in dealing with similar issues.

Before 1980, the law used to recognize different forms of land ownership. Thereafter, it would stipulate that land belonged to the entire population. Nowadays, “land use rights” are almost identical to ownership rights. As a result, law enforcers and the public are not always updated on the changes in a timely manner. The interpretation of law stipulations is not complete or consistent. Some people still assume that private ownership of land is legal. Although there is a myriad of legal documents concerning land, they are not consistent because they were issued at different points of time. Many of them are largely of an administrative, bureaucratic nature, overlap each other, or are unfair. Therefore, while compensations are made, land recovered and site cleared, there is often a situation in which subsequent beneficiaries are offered greater benefits than their predecessors. Sometimes, in the same region, people residing in a particular administrative zone receive more benefits than those in another zone. In some cases, people who delay their observation of land-related policies enjoy more benefits than those who seriously follow them.

In the recent land conflict in Hai Phong, the authorities of Tien Lang district and Vinh Quang commune held the main responsibilities. However, there was an objective reason. The law on land has been supplemented so many times, and there are hundreds of documents guiding its implementation. Although the country’s legal documents on land are numerous, they are either about similar things or contradict each other. That is why they do not effectively handle day-to-day management or use of land. Another problem lies in the insufficient capabilities of local level law enforcers.

Because of different reasons, the country’s current law on land has yet to reflect the nature of land relations in reality. It has failed to manage land use or solve land disputes. It has yet to identify the responsibilities of relevant organizations or individuals when it comes to poor management or use of land. Specific issues include the followings.

- Saying that “Land management bodies are established on a range of levels, central to local” (2003 Law on Land, Articles 64 and 65) is too general or vague. Therefore, law enforcers who are insufficiently professional are not clear about their functions, tasks, rights or responsibilities.

Regulations concerning state management of land do not stipulate how the management is supposed to be done or who is supposed to take charge, which causes authorities to interpret them freely and act their own way. People may take advantage of this lack of clarity for their own interests.

Chapter II of the 2003 Law on Land entitled “The State’s rights to land and state management of land” does not provide very clear or adequate stipulations concerning the State’s duties and responsibilities in this regard. Thus, the Law on Land ignores an important jurisdictional principle: Not only people but also the State have to abide by the law and be responsible according to the law.

- The law does not contain stipulations concerning the scope and responsibility of land investigations to which the State and land users are accountable. Neither does it stipulate land inventory mechanisms as a duty of all land managers and users have to undertake.

- Law stipulations concerning complaints and denunciations are not consistent. The Law on Complaints and Denunciations and Law on Land stipulate resolution of complaints and denunciations differently. Different bodies have the authority to deal with land-related complaints and denunciations. For instance, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment is in charge of land management, Ministry of Finance formulates land-related financial policies, and Ministry of Construction manages housing issues. It is this complex designation that causes people difficulties in determining who is going to handle their cases.

- Although law stipulations concerning compensations for people when the State recovers their land for national or public interests or economic development purposes have been revised or supplemented many times, many issues are still not explained in clear or concrete terms. This is especially true when it comes to the determination of cases which are, or are not, entitled to compensations, and the categorization of types of land for compensational purposes. Moreover, the recovery of land for economic development purposes has placed market relations of a “special commodity” being land and land use rights entirely in the realm of administration. In many cases, the State has been used as a source of unconditional support for investors.

- Land planning is decisive to the allocation, rental or recovery of land. However, there is no official base for examining the seriousness and quality of such planning, which makes it difficult to get people’s feedback on it. “Suspended planning,” “adjusted planning” or “unreal planning” are relatively common practices.

Due to the lack of sufficient allocation among land authority levels, the laws have unconsciously given the power to management, allocation and use of land to groups of administrative officials in certain levels and sectors, which possibly lead to corruption.

2. Lack of understanding of the law among parts of governmental officers, civil servants, and ordinary people           

Many people’s awareness of land relations does not conform to relevant law stipulations. Illegal traditional customs, practices, and village rules on land still predominate over socio-economic activities in many provinces, especially those in the countryside or the mountainous areas. When a conflict occurs, people resort to local customs rather than the law to solve it. Many people fail to distinguish land ownership from land use rights. They think they have the right to own their land, especially agricultural and residential land, when a certificate of land use is issued to them. In the Central Highlands, people consider any land to be theirs once they have cultivated on it. Even land with forests they have burned of destroyed are assumed to be their properties.

Given such false perceptions, the complexity of laws on land and increasing prices of land in the market economy, land disputes and conflicts are on the rise and are becoming ever more complicated.

3. Compensations for site clearing are insufficient      

- Differences between the rights of the State as the representative of universal land ownership and land users’ lawful rights have not been mediated. In many cases, land use rights are actually ownership ones. However, when land is recovered, authorities tend to overemphasize the rights of the State, i.e. ownership ones, rather than paying adequate attention to the legitimate rights of land users who have invested in enriching the land. When calculating compensations, they have yet to reconcile differences between the price of land recovery and the cost of resettlement. Compensation is made according to official rates, which are usually low, whereas resettlement costs almost equal market prices.

- Differences between the interest of society and that of people whose land is recovered have not been resolved; neither have the differences between the interest of the investor in need of land and that of people whose land is recovered. Rather, emphasis is usually given to creating a favorable investment climate, which explains why sites tend to be cleared in a rush so that land can be transferred or rented out. The fact that compensations for recovered land are much lower than actual land use right transfer costs have had a positive influence on investment encouragement. However, this has caused discontent among people whose land is recovered.

- In many cases, the recovery of arable land for farms, forestry companies or investment projects that will use it for industry, services or infrastructure has not been well planned or is unrealistic. Consequently, the recovered land was not used at all or was poorly used while farmers had little or no land for growing crops, which made their life difficult.

- There are cases where official procedures for recovering land, making compensations and providing resettlement support have not been strictly followed. For example, site clearing was announced before an official decision on land recovery was made, recovery plans were not communicated to affected people in advance, sites were forcibly cleared while resettlement was not available, land recovery decisions were not duly made, or recovered land was used for purposes contrary to the approved planning. In other cases, the law has been unfairly applied to people under similar conditions.

4. Ineffective enforcement of land laws

In the past, the implementation of State guidelines or policies in some places was not strict, complete or reasonable, resulting in poor management of arable land. Land management in general remains inadequate. Land documentation has yet to receive proper attention, so it cannot be used a firm basis for land management. Land use planning has occurred at a slow rate. Changes in land use have not been regularly updated, leading to incomplete or inaccurate consultation about planning and recovery of land and resolution of land-related complaints, denunciations or disputes. Many provinces do not have detailed land use plans, which is responsible for their random allocation, rental, recovery or transfer of land.

Because land management is not highly regarded, land documentation is inconsistent. There is a lack of registration books, maps or other documents. Because land documentation is not well conducted, it is difficult to trace back the origin of a plot of land or its usage history. For a long time, measurement, categorization, origin tracing, registration and updates on changes in land use rights have been conducted unsystematically or even completely ignored.

Insufficient attention has been paid to inspection. Provinces have paid little attention to the inspection of projects after they have been allocated land or have rented it. Authorities have not discovered or timely dealt with cases where land is used for wrongful purposes or behind schedule or where investors do not use their allocated land but seek opportunities to transfer it so they can get benefits from doing so. Inspection of official use of land has not been effectively carried out. Governmental officials or civil servants who are found to have wrongly managed or used land have not been strictly punished.

5. Ineffective resolution of complaints and denunciations  

While dealing with land disputes, complaints or denunciations, many provinces have not done a good job in receiving plaintiffs or their written complaints. They have failed to provide plaintiffs with detailed information as to how to file a complaint, which results in the fact that a plaintiff sends the same complaint to different authorities. Upon receiving a complaint, they have ignored it or have tried to shift the blame instead of focusing their resources on resolving it. In many cases, final decisions have been made but they are not abided by while the decision makers do not exercise timely supervision in order to resolve such cases. In other cases, although conclusions or decisions have been made, they are not realistic, giving rise to new, often more complicated, complaints.

Some cases have been decided on but little has been done to follow them up. Lack of timely inspection or supervision has led to prolonged or new complaints, causing public discontent. In some places, local authorities, after making a final decision on a complaint, assume that they have fulfilled their responsibility. In many cases, although final decisions are proved to be wrong, decision makers do not make any effort to revise them. As a result, plaintiffs begin to doubt whether local authorities have solved their cases in accordance with the law and thus file other suits.

6. Vested interests among parts of powerful officials

Because of fast urbanization, the price of land is increasing. Land has become an asset with a special value. However, it has been poorly managed for a long time, leading to widespread errors. Some governmental officials or civil servants have taken advantage of their positions and have violated laws or policies on land for the sake of their private interests. Some have misappropriated land and have secretly shared it with each other, have sold it or have used to as bribes, causing serious consequences including public discontent.

In rural areas, village or district officials have committed a number of land-related offences including acting outside their area of competence, allocating land to the wrong beneficiaries, adopting wrong procedures, using the wrong plots of land and offering discounts or waivers to the wrong beneficiaries. Many of such offences are complicated, involve different people and induce prolonged complaints, thus causing social instability or disorder or becoming politico-social hot spots. In some places, misappropriation of land among local officials has undermined institutional solidarity. Some offences have been either covered up or have not been solved timely or strictly enough, causing public discontent and destroying their trust in governmental offices.

Of the above-mentioned causes, which is the main one? The research group did a survey trying to answer the question, “What is the State’s share in the causes of land disputes and conflicts?”

Responses to the survey suggest the following:

In general, there is a relatively unanimous perception of the causes of land conflicts in Vietnam. However, there are a few differences in naming them. Scholars and managers including policy makers and enforcers believe that the most important cause of land conflicts is lack of transparent, realistic laws on land and difficulty in their implementation. Meanwhile, the public insist that it is unreasonable compensation that has caused conflicts. It is common knowledge that unreasonable compensation, which is caused by the failure to calculate the prices of land use rights in accordance with actual market prices, is actually an institutional matter.

 

PROF., DR. PHAN XUAN SON

Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics

MA. VU HONG TRANG

Academy of Politics Zone I

 

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