Protect the Indigenous people of Sabah
Land Acquisition and Compensation in Involuntary Resettlement
The forced resettlement of populations in association with the construction of hydroelectric dams development has become commonplace today. The extent and the implications of such forced relocation are diverse and variable, depending on the nature of the project and density of the population. The size of a displaced population may vary from only a few hundreds to tens of thousands.
The consequences of forced resettlement are enormous: it destroys the existing modes of production and ways of life, affects kinship and community organization and networks, causes environmental problems and impoverishment, and threatens cultural identity of tribal and ethnic minorities, often the worst sufferers of hydroelectric dam projects. In addition, forced resettlement tends to be associated with increased sociocultural and psychological stresses and higher morbidity and mortality rates. Population displacement, therefore, disrupts economic and sociocultural structures. People who are displaced undergo tremendous stress as they lose productive resources – land or otherwise – in the adjustment process. Resettling the displaced poor, remote, and economically disadvantaged is not always an easy task.
Resettlement: Some Issues
To date, social science research has largely focused on impacts of dislocation and adjustment strategies. Issues of Cultural Survival also centered on problems of dislocation and resettlement. This article primarily focuses on one important aspect of the resettlement process: land acquisition and compensation. What should be the contents and scope of a resettlement plan? Should the displacees be involved in the decision-making process? How do you protect the interests of vulnerable groups such as tribal people, landless and seminlandless peoples, and women groups? How do you stop the influx of nonresidents from taking advantage of compensation arrangements? Should there be a national resettlement and compensation policy?
Compensation: Cash or Kind?
Most countries have land acquisition laws that require prompt and adequate monetary compensation for persons who lose their land and property. However, cash compensation has many negative consequences, particularly for tribal and other marginal populations. Indigenous people are not well accustomed to managing cash. There is a popular saying among the ethnic minority in Sabah Malaysia, a people displaced repeatedly by development projects: “Land is like diamonds but money is like ice”.
Some tribal people have very little transaction experience with the outside world. For example, the cash compensation given to those affected,the sudden cash in their hands gave many the false impression of wealthiness. They changed their life style who despite their fight against the land acquisition, had lost the best part of their land, became the living example of this side effect [of cash compensation]. Entertainments and drinking increased to an unprecedented level. The villagers …think that displacement has cost them a lot both materially, and spiritually. They claim that they were not compensated adequately for their loss.
One important mechanism for implementing the land-for-land strategy is to identify several possible relocation sites to provide alternative choice to the displacees. The productive potential, quality of soil, availability of irrigation water, and locational advantages of the new relocation sites should be ideally better or at least equivalent to the lost site in order to make it attractive to the settlers. Furthermore, in selecting relocation sites, attention should be paid to the possibility of off-farm income (e.g., fishing, seasonal wage labor, gathering forest products) to supplement family income.
Notes that there are three significant issues related to monetary compensation: (1) evaluating the worth of property to determine the amount of payment; (2) the timing of the payment; and (3) determining noncash compensation where cash alone is not appropriate. In many countries, market value of the land being acquired is used as the determining factor in calculating compensation. A displaced person may find it difficult to acquire comparable land with the compensation money because of limited land market or higher value of land in the relocated area, where prices can double or even triple almost overnight. In addition, the costs for relocating, transporting, salvaging building materials, and so on can put financial strain on the resettlers. In such circumstances, cash compensation should be supplemented by providing “replacement assets” (e.g., house, land, shop) in order for the displacees to be resettled.
Compensation money must be made available before the actual move so that displaced households can use the money to overcome or minimize the hurdles of dislocation. Furthermore, compensation for land acquisition should not be limited to monetary payments to individuals; there should be appropriate compensation to the community of people to reestablish their new communities:
Established in a land mark decision that property holders displaced due to land acquisition were entitled to cash compensation, and that irrigable agricultural lands, houseplots, schools, community buildings, drinking water wells, fuelwood lots, livestock wells, health clinics, threshing grounds, burial or cremation grounds, and so forth were to be provided by the government to replace those sacrificed to planned development projects. Only the cost of agricultural land is to be recouped from the cash compensation of the affected people; other components are project costs.
Finally, Landless laborers are often the hardest hit group in the relocation processes due to their lack of ownership and entitlement to land. In Sabah, landless people constitute 50 percent of the total rural population. In such circumstances, there is often customary recognition of “use-right,” but cash compensation to landless displacees is always inadequate.
As a group, women are also affected by forced relocation; very rarely have their concerns been considered in resettlement projects. In many cultures, women are involved with land-based activities and in herding animals; they are part of the productive work force and contribute substantially to the sustenance of the family. However, compensation monies always go to men, often leading to mistrust and division in the family, particularly the weaker ones such as widows and elderly women – of their rightful compensation.
Land Tenure, Acquisition, and Resettlement.
Involuntary resettlement plans must not only address the relocation and rehabilitation needs of property owners, but also the landless, wage laborers, artisans, craftspeople. In other words, resettlement designs must keep the community in mind, not the individual. This means carefully considering existing land tenure systems and inheritance patterns, and local customary practices that govern use and entitlement to community property. Studies of land tenure systems and customary practices will be helpful in devising compensation rules and resettlement titles.
Furthermore, developing and designing a resettlement plan means understanding the legal framework. Many World Bank-financed projects in Asia and elsewhere dealt with the problems associated with relocation and resettlement on an ad hoc basis due to lack of national resettlement policies. Since the legal basis for land acquisition may vary from state to state and region to region, a national land acquisition and resettlement policy should be flexible enough as an instrument for guidelines, leaving the details to local authority for local decisions on the merits of individual projects.
Planning resettlement must begin early on in a development project. It should be based on information as accurate as possible about the scale of displacement, impacts and consequences on the life and livelihood of the people, the extent of loss of assets, and destruction of infrastructure and services. A good strategy is to undertake a complete socioeconomic survey of potentially affected families, with names of all members of the household, their age, gender, education levels, and occupational backgrounds. The survey should also include questions aimed at gauging people’s attitudes, preferences, and choices on future resettlement. Such a survey is of fundamental importance to plan ahead and to prevent inflows of outsiders for future compensation award.
Participation of and assistance by the local community in the survey and planning process may ensure better results. Instead of a “top-down” resettlement planning, if the people are consulted right from the beginning and feel involved in the local decision-making process, they will be more likely to see the resettlement plan as their project.The “protest committee” and NGOs conclude that people’s participation in resettlement planning and implementation can be very helpful in designing realistic and sustainable economic production systems. Finally, the socioeconomic survey data can also be used to develop new training programs for alternative employment if the available land is not sufficient to accommodate all the project-affected people.
Developing Local Participation
Land acquisition and compensation are only two important issues as well. Since completely avoiding dislocation is sometimes difficult, the importance of carefully assessing the scale of disruption and preparation of a plan for resettlement can hardly be overemphasized. Elsewhere, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have been useful in mobilizing local resources and institution-building. The key to any successful resettlement program lies in defining and developing mechanisms for people’s participation in planning and implementation; this will further facilitate social cohesion and the development of a sense of community among the resettlement programs.
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