Independent land policy analyst Professor Dang Hung Vo argued in Nong thon Ngay nay newspaper that the National Assembly should give local people more power in settling disputes over their land
During the consultation process on amendments to the 2003 Law on Land, people are asked to give their opinions on a range of land rights. Do you think these views will be reflected in the amended law?
Public consultation is required by law and people nationwide have been consulted about the proposed changes to the Law on Land. But right now, I don't know if the people's ideas have been reflected in the latest version of the revised Land Law. Further consultation processes should be bottom up not top down, as we are doing right now. In my opinion, the project should only start when the affected people are happy with the provisions for compensation, support or resettlement.
What about the people not affected by the project. Should we consult with all people living in the surrounding areas?
There are two different schools of thought. First, is gaining a "consensus" among the affected people - those having their land acquired. The second, is gaining the "consensus" of the whole population living in the area where the project will be located.
Personally, I prefer the second idea. As we all know, the affected people always want a better deal - sometimes higher than the market price. If we ask the opinions of both the affected and non-affected people, we'll come up with a better decision.
When you say "area", do you mean a hamlet or a commune?
I mean people living in the commune. As a commune is the lowest administrative unit in Viet Nam. However, a public consultation meeting is often held among small group of households like clusters or hamlets, depending on the population density. What's most important is that the points raised by the people are collected, considered and reflected in the law.
How will the people's consensus on the issue of land acquisition, compensation, support and resettlement be considered and reflected in the law?
Viet Nam won the war against the French and then the Americans thanks to the "people's war". Through the two wars for national salvation, we have all realised the power of the people. And even the Communist Party of Viet Nam has always considered the cause of mobilising the people as it's most important.
Now is the time for us to once again seek support from the people. In my opinion, there are two steps we should take relating to the issue of land acquisition, compensation, support and resettlement.
First is to promote the communication campaign helping people thoroughly understand all aspects of the problems surrounding land acquisition and compensation.
Second is to empower the people and community to make their own decisions. As a result, people in many localities have voluntarily contributed the money they got from land compensation to build infrastructure in their localities.
Does Vietnamese law allow people to seek consensus through voting?
Not yet. However, land issue is a very "hot" topic. It is almost impossible to have a hundred per cent in favour of a particular solution. But if the result is less than 50 per cent - it cannot be accepted.
To my knowledge, some developed countries have already decided to take two thirds of the votes as a benchmark for "consensus."
I think HCM City has experienced vote of "consensus" issues regarding land acquisition.
For example, if more than 70 per cent of affected people agree on the compensation price offered by the project owner, the project will get the green light to start. In 2007, the government officially allowed the project owner to use the "consensus" mechanism to negotiate with people on the issue of land acquisition.
I hope at the coming year-end meeting, scheduled for next month, the National Assembly will discuss the issue of empowering the people and community to make their own decisions on land compensation, support and resettlement. This will be a big change in the concept of democracy in Viet Nam if it is approved by the law makers. — VNS