Knowing your rights: Land compensation and access to information in Viet Nam

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DSC 0214Staff from the Legal Consultation Center visited communes affected by the irrigation project several times to provide citizens with information on their property rights June 2012 – Mr Hoang Van Khoa and Mrs Ung Duoc Lan live in Phan Lam, a mountainous commune in Bac Binh district, in the southeastern province of Binh Thuan in Viet Nam. In 2008, they lost their seven hectares of land which was to be used for a reservoir basin for an irrigation project. As a result, they were deprived of the income they earned from growing cashew nuts.

“All our farm land was reclaimed but we did not know how much compensation we would receive, so we were not able to plan for the future,” Khoa explains. “We were worried that we would not have any land for farming.”

Khoa and Lan started farming in Phan Lam back in 1996. They did not have a house of their own then. Two of their four children had to drop out of school because of a lack of money. Their third child was born with congenital heart defects, so they had to spend money on her treatment. However, the couple learnt how to plant cashews and they were soon able to harvest 3.5 tons of cashew nuts per year. This earned them about 120 million dong (approximately 5,700 US dollars) every year, and they built their house just before the land was reclaimed.

The irrigation project is expected to supply water for 30,000 people in all of the district's nine communes and towns. However, it also means that many households lost their farmland, just like Khoa and Lan.

Once Khoa and Lan were informed that their land was to be used for the irrigation project, it took a long time for a decision to be made on the compensation amount. Some paper work was missing and there was disagreement on the level of compensation. A while later, the couple was informed that they would be compensated for just two of their seven hectares of land.

Fortunately, Khoa and Lan had an opportunity to meet with the Legal Consultation Centre of Binh Thuan province's Lawyer’s Association, during a visit of the centre to Phan Lam in 2011. This was the first time that Khoa, Lan and other people in the commune learnt about their property rights, the Land Law and the Government’s compensation policy.

The Legal Consultation Center is one of five such centers supported by UNDP and the Viet Nam Lawyer’s Association. It offers legal advice and assistance for people to exercise their property rights.
Staff from the center visited Phan Lam several times and Khoa consulted the lawyers about the amount of money his family should be compensated. With their support, Khoa appealed against the initial compensation amount offered.

The outcome was positive. By the end of 2011, Khoa and Lan were informed of the district’s decision to compensate them for all their land, amounting to nearly 1.1 billion dong (approximately 52,000 US dollars).

Khoa and Lan now feel secure about their family's future and have started to plan for their new life. “We will use the money to buy a plot of land in the neighboring district and plant cashew nuts again,” Khoa says.

Thanks to the hard work of staff from the UNDP-supported Legal Consultation Centre, more than 80 per cent of the households whose farmland was reclaimed in Bac Binh have now been paid the right compensation. “The Center has prestige in our community,” Khoa says.

Khoa’s situation is not unique. Across Viet Nam, many other households have also been offered an incorrect compensation amount for reclaimed land. Mr Nguyen Kien Quoc, Director of the Legal Consultation Center and Deputy Chairman of Binh Thuan province's Lawyer’s Association says that in order to solve the problem: "It's crucial to apply the law correctly."  

Mr Quoc always reminds commune officials that people have the right to access information on land. Whenever he travels to communes to provide legal aid services, he tells people: "If you have any question, please ask or if necessary, appeal against an unfair decision. That is your right."