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

rural man
Mr Hoang Van Khoa at his old cashew farm which was reclaimed for an irrigation project.

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.”

Highlights

  • Farmers deprived of income as their farmland is reclaimed.
  • Farmers learnt about their property rights for the first time.
  • Legal aid enables 400 farmer households to get right compensation for reclaimed land.

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.

Farmers learnt about property right for the first time

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 the five centers in Viet Nam that are supported by the project “Strengthening capacity for the Viet Nam Lawyer’s Association”. The project, with a total budget of 600,000US$ co-funded by the UN Development Programme and UK Department for International Development (DFID), provided technical assistance, training and funds needed for the center to help poor farmers whose farmland was reclaimed.

Farmers get legal aid for the right compensation

As a result, the center offers legal advice and assistance for people to exercise their property rights. Lawyers from the center visited Phan Lam several times and Khoa consulted them 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 Legal Consultation Centre, more than 400 households whose farmland was reclaimed in Bac Binh district 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,  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."