Laos losing out to land concessions

Vientiane Times | 27 April 2011

More than 50 percent of land concessions granted for investment projects result in detrimental affects to Laos, according to an expert from the National Land Management Authority (NLMA).

Head of the NLMA's Research Division Dr Palikone Thalongsengchanh said on Tuesday that many investors sign contracts for a land concession
with the intention of selling t he project to other investors.

“One way to address the problem is to scrutinise all concessions to identify investors who seriously intend to carry out a project and those who don't,” he said.

The NLMA summoned high-ranking officials and land officials from all provinces for a two-day meeting in Vientiane last week to review problems related to land use and the sustainable exploitation of natural resources.

The meeting was chaired by Minister to the Prime Minister's Office and President of the NLMA Kham-ouan Boupha, who expressed concern about the current situation of some projects relating to land concessions and the conversion of land into capital.

There are currently more than 2,000 land concession projects nationwide, but many are ineffective.

The minister said Laos stands to lose more than it gains if concessions granted to projects result in forestry loss and negative impacts on the livelihoods of local people.

For the past 35 years, the management of Lao forests has been out of control and if the situation continues the country's vision of becoming the ‘battery of Asean' will be affected, land use experts say.

Tourism officials said forestry loss as a result of concession projects would not only affect hydropower development but also the tourism industry.

Dr Palikone said it was important to inspect such concessions in parallel with the national land allocation project. Land problems have arisen in Laos over the past decade due to a lack of land allocation, meaning land concessions are granted in protected forest and watershed areas, as well as places where local people earn a living.

The NLMA had planned to complete a project to allocate all land plots throughout the country by 2015 but now wants to speed up work and finish the project to help address problems related to land use.

“We want to finish all land allocations by 2013 or 2014, but all sectors need to cooperate to ensure this project moves forward,” Dr Palikone said.

The land allocation project is already complete in Vientiane and 16 of the 47 poorest districts in the country. This year work will be completed in the provinces of Vientiane and Luang Prabang as well as the remainder of the 47 poorest districts.

Dr Palikone said other land-related problems include villagers intruding on state-owned land and illegal logging. Only the completion of land allocation can help address the problems.

Some 70 percent of Laos was covered by forests in 1940, but that figure declined to just 41 percent in 2001. The nation's current percentage of forest cover is currently under survey.

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Source: Vientiane Times