The land policy is for whom?

VietNamNet Bridge - At the ongoing National Assembly, the revised Land Law will be discussed. To provide more scientific information and analysis related to this issue, which is a widespread public concern, VietNamNet would like to introduce the study of policies and laws on land, conducted by the Institute for Policy and Strategy for Agriculture and Rural Development (IPSARD) under the Vietnamese Ministry of Agriculture in collaboration with the Harvard University and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

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This is the work of the group of authors, including Ho Dang Hoa, Le Thi Quynh Tram, Pham Duy Nghia and Malcolm F. McPherson under the project "Analyzing policies to develop land policies for socio-economic development in Vietnam."

Land policy is understood here as the actions and activities through which the Government of Vietnam determines for individuals and groups in society about their rights over land; specifies the circumstances in which the land-related rights can be transferred; and develops mechanisms to protect those rights and gives orientations to deal with related disputes.

The official land policies (de jure) of Vietnam were previously reflected through several laws (such as the Land Law 1993 and the Land Law 2003), decrees, directives, decisions and circulars. These policies are set by central government and implemented by ministries and relevant agencies at all level.

The informal land policies (de facto) are determined by different agencies and interpreted, obeyed and implemented the directions of the Central Government by functional agencies. The coherence of intentions and results that are achieved in practice will determine the validity of the land policy.

The data below shows that besides land-related documents, which are carefully prepared and applied as intended, there are still quite a lot of documents which do not achieve the purpose.

Historical experience, including in Vietnam and other countries, shows that the use, allocation, planning and management of land have always been the most sensitive issues; the most controversial and under the biggest political pressure in any society. This is true even in today's era.

Land has many uses. Land is the production resource and its basic characteristic is the relative location to where raw materials for the production are supplied and the market for products. The geography of land is distinguished by climate, topography, soil and other physical factors that serve the environmental, cultural, and administrative purposes. Efficient use of land will bring about jobs, create products and source of income.

Land is cultural asset for the individual and the community. Land creates the concept of "place" and identity so that it contributes to national social capital, including the system of relationships and networks to support and maintain communities and regions in the country.

Land is also considered tangible assets and can be priced on the market, exchanged, inherited or given or received as a gift as well as being used as collateral. For many individuals, especially in rural areas, land is livelihood and the source of life assurance.

Land plays a key role to create and maintain the services for public purposes, such as infrastructure, watersheds, coastal mangroves, aquaculture areas, forests, parks and natural reserves. The public value of land is also the place to enjoy with the value that increases rapidly when the social urbanization and per capita income increase.

Land is a political entity in which the border shows the boundaries of national sovereignty and is the basis of international recognition and international cooperation. Finally, land (or space in general) is a basis for determining the rights and responsibilities between the administrative units such as villages, counties / districts, communities, provincial and central governments. Depending on each issue, such as infrastructure, environmental management, education, or land acquisition which areas of responsibility may be overlapped.

Who has the right to access land?

The Constitution of Vietnam claims the people’s ownership of the land and the State’s right of management over land. However, the Constitution does not provide adequate guidance about how land management will be like, by which State agency, or who will have the right to have access to land and under what conditions.

These aspects are handled by administrative measures so the land law can be negotiated, expressed in different ways and be amended continuously. This creates confusion and uncertainty in land management. At the same time, it also creates loopholes for officials at different levels to determine the meaning of provisions of the law and for the benefit of whom.

The difficulty is not because the government is not willing to amend the Law, but by the lack of a complete set of rules that allows problems related to land (and assets) be resolved in a fair and impartial manner.

Access to land is highly politicized and due to the scarcity of land, it is difficult for officials to handles issues related to land in a well-defined way that does not take into account of economic benefit calculation, political or other interests.

If there is a set of rules to be applied, at least the right to use land, the conditions for the transfer of these rights and mechanisms to resolve conflicts will ensure consistency as between those who have access to land, according to a given procedure and is done in a fair, transparent and impartial way.

Currently, the Land Law and relevant regulations are applied in a number of areas and applied primarily to urban residents and foreign investors. Meanwhile, farmers and rural residents are less guaranteed of their right of having access to land and the same protection.

It does not matter if the results of that do not make consequences. However, the largest group of constituents, farmers and rural residents, has not been treated fairly by the land owner. If this situation continues, it will not help strengthen sustainable economic development.

No country can quickly and easily switch from the centralized management system to a decentralized system, in having access to the above property based on a set of consistent and fair regulations on the rights to use property that are distributed and protected under impartial and non-political way. Vietnam is and will not be the exception.

Along with the process of modernization, Vietnam will gradually make progress on this issue. It is more important that Vietnam needs to achieve successes on this issue if the State wants to achieve the ambitious goals of economic growth and industrialization. The clear land policy will play a key role to achieve that ambition.

Currently, the reference documents on land policies in Vietnam are relatively abundant. There are a lot of research works are being done. Each study emphasizes the importance, the ability to influence and suggests the change of land use along with the process of urbanization, industrialization and globalization.

To be continued