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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Monday, March 28, 2005

Sweeping powers to acquire land

Online edition of the Sunday Times:By Feizal Samath
The government has armed itself with draft legislation to empower the President to issue a decree to acquire land for housing projects in tsunami-affected areas. Such decrees cannot be challenged in courts except on grounds of matters relating to compensation.

This is part of plans by the government, under fire over delays in post-tsunami reconstruction to speed up housing projects, officials said. Urban Development Minister Dinesh Gunewardene said, “as of now there is no need … but if necessary we could use a presidential proclamation (which has been done in the past) to acquire land for urgent, national importance”.

The availability of land for acquisition has become a serious problem particularly in Galle and Matara, according to TAFREN officials. “It is a major challenge,” one official said.

He said MoUs with donors had already been signed and work on all units would begin in May while some of it had already begun. Initial estimates put the requirement at 100,000 houses but now the figure – after further investigation – has come down to 72,000 of which 40,000 are urgent as they are houses destroyed or damaged within the 100-200 metres security zone in affected areas.

All these houses would be completed in nine months, Mr Gunawardene said. The acquisition of land is on and current market values based on the Government Valuer’s recommendation would be paid to landowners.

Some TAFREN sources spoke of significant clauses in the proposed TAFREN Act providing for hassle-free land acquisition and said this could be used. Under this act, land acquisition cannot be challenged – unlike now – except in the determination of the level of the compensation, a rule that currently exists in India and the US.

However although these proposals were prepared by the Legal Draftsman’s Office as an urgent bill just two weeks after the tsunami, it appears to have been kept in cold storage since then. Officials from various agencies including the Finance Ministry were unable to say what has happened to the proposed piece of legislation.

Separately a meeting of international donors would be held in Kandy in May to discuss funding arrangements for the tsunami reconstruction and also the country’s normal development process. This is the annual Paris Aid meeting which in recent years has shifted to Colombo.

Another task being undertaken is a multi-donor assessment of post-tsunami reconstruction. “This is the second phase of the needs assessment. The first phase was prepared jointly by the World Bank, ADB and JBIC (Japan Bank for International Cooperation) with a national perspective. The current phase is taking that report and discussing it with regional partners at district level. There are more consultations in the process,” one source at an aid agency said.

The final assessment, which TAFREN is also awaiting to begin long-term reconstruction of roads, bridges, housing and other needs, would be ready by April and form the basis for discussion at the donor meeting in May. TAFREN sources said the final rebuilding plan had an estimate of over $300 million for rebuilding of roads and bridges and had been adjusted to ensure the re-development was connected to tsunami-affected areas and not total development of the country, a criticism the government faced in the first draft of the rebuilding plan.

Meanwhile, government officials including TAFREN chairman Mano Tittawela last week pleaded for time and understanding in the tsunami process saying the pledges from donors were only now being converted to cash. He said donors and NGOs had their own policies and accountability standards to follow. “They cannot dish out money without knowing where it is going. They are also accountable for transparency requirements the same way as we are bound,” he said at a panel discussion in Colombo on the post-tsunami process.

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