Curb land reform excess

Curb land reform excess

While Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has insisted that tackling inequality is a priority of his government, a recent move of one of his cabinet members on land reform seems to suggest otherwise.

Thamanat Prompow, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives, said last week he would propose an amendment to the 1975 Agricultural Land Reform Act which governs the use of state-owned Sor Por Kor land. This type of land has been given to landless poor farmers to be used for agricultural purposes as part of the state's land reform programme.

Under the law, those farmers are not allowed to sell the land or transfer their right to use it to anyone except by way of inheritance to their family members. Additionally, the land can only be used for agricultural activities. But Capt Thamanat wants to change the law to extend the scope of land use to cover other areas, especially tourism.

Under his plan, those granted the right to use certain Sor Por Kor plots will be allowed to sell and transfer them to others besides family members given they have already occupied the land for a prescribed period of time. The amended law will specify the time frame, he said.

The policy is a pledge of the ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) made during the election campaign earlier this year, aiming to help farmers maximise the benefit of the land. It was initiated by PPRP heavyweight Suchart Tancharoen, now deputy House Speaker.

But, ahead of the polls, Gen Prayut put a break on the idea, saying Sor Por Kor land plots cannot be sold or transferred for financial gain.

"It is best for farmers to keep their Sor Por Kor plots for agricultural purposes," the premier said. It is unclear whether Gen Prayut has since changed his stance.

If the government wants to go ahead with this policy, it must consult the public to hear the views of all stakeholders because Sor Por Kor land is state property that must not be allowed to be sold or transferred for the sake of individual interest. The land reform scheme, invented in 1975, was intended to provide state-owned agricultural land to farmers who have no land of their own or who have little land sufficient for making a living. Landless poor deemed a good fit for the scheme then received land right certificates.

Unfortunately, the scheme has been abused by rich people who have encroached certain prime plots and used them for commercial purposes, and tried to claim the land rights. Many Sor Por Kor land plots have thus been turned into holiday resorts.

If the law is amended and Sor Por Kor land is allowed to be used for "tourism", it is beyond doubt that investors, not farmers, will benefit the most. The plan could become a moral hazard as it will legalise the many abuses of Sor Por Kor land. This will not tackle inequality but widen it.

However, the law can be amended to help farmers make better use of the land by allowing them to use their land right certificates as collateral when they apply for loans. This kind of amendment is more acceptable because it still conforms with the original intention which is to help improve livelihoods of poor and landless farmers.


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