The Office of the Council of Ministers has approved the draft law on Control, Use and Management of the State Assets, which aims to ensure that state assets are preserved for the common interests of the country and the people.
The Ministry of Economy and Finance initiated the drafting of the law in November 2014. The law comprises 12 Chapters and 90 Articles.
The Constitution states: “State property notably comprises land, mineral resources, mountains, sea, underwater, continental shelf, coastline, airspace, islands, rivers, canals, streams, lakes, forests, natural resources, economic and cultural centres, bases for national defence and other facilities determined as State property.”
The draft law was approved during a closed-door Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday after debates.
Minister of Economy and Finance Aun Pornmoniroth said during the meeting the draft law had been vetted by relevant institutions to ensure that state assets will be preserved for the common interest of the country and the people through a process of “effectiveness, efficiency, transparency, accountability, lawful legality, territory and sustainable development.”
According to the draft, any companies which are allowed to do business involving state assets will only be given leases of between 15 and 50 years.
Other conditions must also be strictly adhered to, failing which the lease can be revoked at any time.
The draft notes that economic land concessions must also not go on beyond 50 years and the amount of the land involved must not exceed 100,000 hectares.
“Each person can receive economic land concession in several locations but the total amount of land must not be larger than 100,000 hectares. At the same time, the authority is not allowed to provide several economic land concessions to the same person,” the draft law said.
Chapter 10 of the draft law deals with punishments for “competent authority and concerned officials” who fail to take action related to violation of state assets.
It said any violations in the occupation of state assets will carry jail terms of between two and three years and fines from about $1,000 to $2,500.
In some cases, the punishment could go up to five years in prison.
The law also limits the concession of public management service to a maximum of 15 years.
According to data from the Ministry of Agriculture, from 1993 to 2012, the government granted over 1.2 million hectares in ELCs to 118 local and foreign investment firms.
In 2012, the government stopped granting new ELCs.
Since then, the companies which failed to develop the ELCs had their licences revoked and the government also slashed the maximum concession contract period from 99 years to 50 years.
Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister General Tea Banh during the meeting urged the government to reconsider plans to conserve areas, including in Koh Kong and Preah Vihear provinces, which will affect the local communities who have lived on the land for several decades.
“Many of these conservation areas cover farmlands of the locals and their communities which cannot be accepted,” he said.
Gen Banh, who is from Koh Kong province, also said there are too many conservation projects that affect local communities.
“This will not work. Just remember that the locals voted for the ruling CPP to stay in power. If they are not supported, how can we expect to lead the country,” he added.
Gen Banh also called on the government to preserve the “military historical records” along the border with Thailand as part of the government’s effort to protect the borders.
In his response, Mr Hun Sen said authorities at all provinces must pay greater attention to the local communities and make sure that no conservation area overlaps with farmland or villages belonging to local communities.
“We will issue land titles for the locals where their communities are located in the same area of conservation as soon as possible, but they must make sure they do not expand the areas they currently occupy,” he said.
Government Spokesperson Unit president Phay Siphan said after the meeting that the law was drafted based on the 1993 Constitution.
“This draft law will serve as a legal tool to contribute to the strengthening of good governance and facilitate the performance of senior leaders and ministry or state institution officials in terms of efficiency, effectiveness and accountability in controlling, using and managing state property in accordance with the national ideals,” he said.