Failed land justice in Vietnam
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Failed land justice in Vietnam

Grievances mount over land tenure laws and little has been resolved, writes Asia Sentinel’s David Brown

In Vietnam, the “land problem” has many guises.

For farmers, it’s a question of the right to work one’s land with the confidence that it will not be taken away except by due process and at a fair price. For developers, it’s a matter of gaining control of real estate on which they can build housing estates, industrial zones, highways or golf courses. For the Vietnamese state, it is a problem that has clogged the courts. corrupted officials and stunted growth. And for the Communist Party, it’s a major challenge as the failure to manage land issues equitably and effectively erodes public patience with its monopoly of power.

A year ago, a confrontation between a desperate family of fish farmers and several hundred gendarmes riveted the attention of the nation. Assessing the meaning of the “Tien Lang incident,” commentators called the inability – or failure – of the central government to stop local officials from manipulating the land tenure regime for their profit and farmers’ ruin “a life or death question for the regime.”

At the time, Party Secretary-General Nguyen Phu Trong and Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung acknowledged fundamental problems in Vietnam’s Land Law. It was announced that the Politburo and Government had resolved to revise the law thoroughly. Drafting work was well under way by the middle of 2012, but not before an incident on the outskirts of the capital cast doubt on the sincerity of the regime’s resolve.

Prime Minister Dung had chastised Haiphong City authorities in February 2012 for unleashing police and militia to seize Dang Van Vuon’s fish farm at Tien Lang. Was Dung also dismayed when the provincial government of Hai Duong province deployed 1000 policemen last April 24 to evict a few hundred spade-wielding farmers from fields and orchards on the site of “EcoPark,” a new garden suburb southeast of Hanoi? Apparently not.

The master plan for the quarter-billion dollar project in Hung Yen province’s Van Giang district shows an attractive mix of villas and high rise buildings spread over a well-watered, heavily planted 500 hectare site, 20,000 units in all. Its builders may well achieve the “perfect harmony of humans and nature” their promotional literature foresees, for the rich alluvial soils of this portion of the Red River Delta have been yielding bumper crops for at least a thousand years.

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