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May 9th, 2017

Cambodia's Land Management and Administration Project (LMAP)

In 2002, the Government of Cambodia approved the Land Management and Administration Project (LMAP), with the goal of improving land security for the poor by setting up a system for registering land and issuing titles. It was led by the World Bank, with the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction as the implementing agency in the country. However, pre-existing weaknesses in Cambodia's legal and administrative infrastructure, coupled with difficulties in monitoring and managing the project, were formidable obstacles to success.

The initiative

The LMAP in Cambodia was first approved in 2002, with the goal of improving land security for the poor by setting up a system to register land and issue titles in the country. Through this, the government also hoped to stimulate economic development, reduce poverty, and improve environmental management. The project was first approved for five years with an end date of December 2007, which was then extended to December 2009. However, the project was suspended for almost a year in 2006 due to procurement issues.[5]

It had three main goals:

  • "Development of national policies, the regulatory framework, and institutions for land administration
  • "Issuance and registration of titles in urban and rural areas
  • "Establishment of an efficient and transparent land administration system.”[6]

The project included the creation of the Cadastral Commission - under Article 47 of the 2001 Land Law - to deal with all cases involving unregistered land except for those with inheritance or contractual issues.

The challenge

Historically, the lack of an established land ownership and recording system has been a pressing issue in Cambodia. In the 1990s, titles for land ownership on private land were issued for only around 25% of the land, and even a Land Law established in 1992 did not allow land ownership in rural areas, only "possessory rights". Similarly, there has been very poor management of public land records in the country. "Apparently the state does not know the amount, location and boundaries of the land that falls under ‘Public land' (...) much of it would not be surveyed, mapped or titled either.”[1]

The lack of rights has also clearly affected the population's incentive to invest in the land, compared to other countries in the region. “Lack of clear title is hindering economic growth in Cambodia by reducing incentives to invest. Farm productivity in the country is the lowest in all of Southeast Asia (...) Increasing agricultural productivity would have a significant impact on economic growth and poverty in Cambodia; agriculture is the most important economic sector in the country, accounting for 40 percent of GDP and employing 70 percent of the labour force."[2]

The issue has also had an effect on the country's environmental sustainability. "Lack of clear rights to land has led to widespread destruction of natural resources. In many areas, forests and fisheries are under the control of no-one, and are being exploited for short-term gains. Entities that have been granted forest and fishing concessions do not feel sufficiently secure to manage them sustainably for the long-term benefit of the country. People are settling in coastal areas and other places that are vulnerable to natural disasters."[3]

The World Bank eventually became involved, identifying land ownership as one of the main obstacles to Cambodia's social progress. “It is overwhelmingly clear to both government and donors that the overriding problem, and the one with the greatest contribution to poverty, is lack of land tenure security (and the associated landlessness) and restricted access to common property resources.”[4]

The public impact

There was a lot of mismanagement in the implementation of land management initiatives, which caused significant disruption and finally the break-up of the partnership between the implementing parties. There was also very limited positive impact:

  • By the end of September 2009, the Cadastral Commission had completed 1,879 cases out of 5,293 received (35 percent). Another 1,772 cases (33 percent) were dismissed, withdrawn or appealed, and 1,692 (32 percent) were pending.[7]
  • In 2011, 42 percent of all rural households in Cambodia were either "land poor" (owning less than 0.5 hectares) or landless (owning no agricultural land at all).[8]
  • The World Bank's own review revealed significant issues. “The Bank's Inspection Panel found that the Bank's failures contributed to the forced eviction of some 20,000 people living around Phnom Penh's Boeung Kak Lake. Residents were wrongly denied the right to register their land ownership under the USD28.8 million Bank-financed land titling project, shortly before the government leased the area to a private developer and began a campaign of intimidation to force more than 4,000 affected families to sell their property at a fraction of its market value.”[9]
  • The implementation of the measures was not homogeneous, leaving a lot of vulnerable households "arbitrarily" excluded from the titling process, and with no opportunity to formalise their land rights.
  • Similarly, land titling was less successful in urban areas of project provinces where land disputes are more common.[10]

Stakeholder engagement

The key local stakeholders were the Government of Cambodia and the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction (MLMUPC), which was the implementing agency for the project, while the World Bank and several foreign nations contributed to the project's funding. Donors, principally the Bank and the Cambodian government, were engaged in the implementation, while on the ground there were a range of civil society organisations (CSOs) and community leaders involved in the day-to-day project execution.[11]

The World Bank's preparatory document clearly stated that there was an intention to include local stakeholders. “During the process of classifying land and demarcating boundaries, all stakeholders will participate in a process of public consultation to ensure general agreement with decisions. During systematic adjudication, NGOs with specialised training in participation will work closely with villagers, explaining the process, producing village land files, and ensuring that all members of the community who are eligible benefit from land titling.”[12] However, a later review stated that participation was limited in reality. "The Council on Land Policy worked closely with donors to develop laws and policies but was less effective in the dialogue on state lands, contributing to weak performance of the Land Management component.”[13]

Political commitment

Political support and engagement regarding the LMAP project was strong at first, but weakened considerably during implementation, leading to widespread criticism. “Government showed a high level of commitment during project preparation, making the necessary arrangements for implementation and appointing suitably qualified staff in a timely manner. But government performance during implementation showed various shortcomings.”[14]

The complexity of the project within a weak political and administrative infrastructure significantly challenged the success of the project. The World Bank was critical of the Cambodian government's participation, citing widespread corruption and a lack of preparation.[15] “The Project Appraisal Document (PAD) highlighted the freewheeling and corrupt attitude of government agencies towards equitable land rights exercised through the rule of law. It may be that the government's 'commitment' was a necessary but not sufficient condition for the project to prosper. There were and remain powerful vested interests for which a well-functioning system of land administration and an efficient use of natural resources for the benefit of the population as a whole represent serious obstacles to private gain and, as a result, certain economic and political agents have not acted in a manner consistent with the 'public good' nature of the project.”[16]

Public confidence

Local villagers were satisfied neither with the government's nor the World Bank's efforts on the project. The government already had a weak reputation in the country, especially regarding its management of resources. “In Cambodia, faith in local authorities is particularly low in communities which depend heavily upon access to and management of natural resources such as forests and fishing waters, where rent-seeking and corruption work to the benefit of richer, better connected households and against the poor.”[17]

On an investigation by a Bank inspection panel in 2009, villagers said that "the programme was ineffective in the face of a marked increase of forced evictions and failed to grant tenure rights to vulnerable residents. More than 4,000 families are facing eviction from the lake to make way for a 133-hectare development project.”[18] Similarly, villagers were dissatisfied with the bank's supervision of the LMAP.

Clarity of objectives

The LMAP's goals were clearly defined at the outset, with no changes in the design of the project or in the implementation arrangements.[19] It was initially designed to be implemented in ten provinces and one municipality, with five main objectives:

  • Development of a land policy and s regulatory framework, which included the development of capacity of the Secretariat of the Council of Land Policy, the formulation of key policies for land administration and management, as well as the development and drafting of legal instruments and the dissemination of policies, laws, rules and regulations
  • Institutional development of the MLMUPC at all levels, including project management, a land management and administration education programme, and a private land surveying industry
  • Land titling programme and development of a land registration system, with information dissemination and community participation, a systematic and a sporadic land titling programme, and a modern land registration system
  • Strengthening mechanisms for dispute resolution, which included strengthening the National Cadastral Commission, strengthening the provincial Cadastral Commissions, and legal assistance for the disadvantaged
  • Land Management, which had three broad areas of focus - the clarification of procedures for land classification, the procurement of aerial photography and satellite imagery, and the preparation of land classification maps at the provincial level.

No formal revision was made of any of the project's components. However, the last component was a late addition and was only partially implemented. [20]

Strength of evidence

While planning the project, the World Bank took into account lessons from past operations in Cambodia as well as projects in the land management sector.  The design of the project was primarily based on two pilot projects, the Land Management Pilot Project led by the German Technical Cooperation Agency (GTZ) and the Cambodian Cadastral Project led by the Finnish surveying company, FINNMAP. Lessons from these pilots were then integrated before the LMAP was launched.

The GTZ-led Land Management Pilot Project started in 1995, the FINNMAP-led Cambodian Cadastral Project in 1997. "As the LMAP evolved into a multi-donor supported project, these two pilot projects were merged into it, providing a wealth of practical information and experience to inform both the design and implementation of the LMAP.”[21]

In 2001, three multi-donor missions - including representatives of the International Development Association and the governments of Finland and Germany - reviewed the work of the preparation team and the consultants. There was a "pre-implementation" phase from October 2001 to June 2002 to set up the operational structure for the LMAP, supported by technical assistance as the two pilot projects continued and merged into the LMAP.[22]


The LMAP was a complex project with a weak administrative and legal infrastructure, which made it a high-risk and difficult initiative, despite the funding that was channelled into it by several actors.

From the financial perspective, the initiative lacked sufficient funding support from either the national government or international donors - “the World Bank (pledging USD28.83 million), GTZ (USD3.5 million in technical assistance), and the Government of Finland (USD3.5 million in technical assistance). The Canadian International Development Agency joined the project in 2004 committing more than CAD10 million in both funding and technical assistance through to 2012.”[23] The Government of Cambodia also pledged funds to the amount of USD3 million.[24]

From the legal perspective, there was no legal clarity on the management of land legislation and allocation. “During the selection of communes to be targeted by the project and the land adjudication process itself, some areas were de jure or de facto declared by authorities to be State land. In some cases these claims to land by the State were inconsistent with legal definitions of State property. Contrary private claims were effectively barred after the State laid claim to the areas in question, regardless of the legitimacy of the State's right to those lands. Families residing in these areas were exposed to accusations of being illegal squatters on State property and their vulnerability to forced eviction was exacerbated.”[25]

Later on, The Inspection Panel, created by the World Bank in 1993, analysed the risk elements of this project in relation to the Bank's objectives. The Panel acknowledged that "[while the bank has an important development role in financing high-risk operations,] the LMAP experience shows the danger of responding to risks by creating an excessively complicated project. The Panel found that new components were added during the preparation process at the expense of clarity on how the different parts were supposed to be functionally interconnected, and without due consideration of the feasibility of the total approach.”[26]


The management of the LMAP project was initially well structured, but it faced challenges to its role as it progressed. These were due to the project's supervisors' failure to disseminate information and give the project visibility.

The main implementation agency was the MLMUPC. A project management office (PMO) was established within the MLMUPC to coordinate project activities, with a project manager heading the technical committee, which comprised the general directors of the various departments that were involved in implementing the project. The PMO was responsible for project planning, coordination, monitoring, accounting, financial management and procurement.[27]

The PMO was considered to have worked effectively, managed staff well, and conducted the necessary training. However, it made limited use of information to track progress and project weaknesses. For example, it failed to use the Cadastral database, and thus missed the opportunity to identify districts where progress was slow and closer management was needed.[28]

The late implementation of the Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) system meant that there was very little real-time information on what was happening on the ground. The World Bank argued that the project needed an online management information system, a socioeconomic research agenda to examine impact - given the complex Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) - and a thorough process of communication with CSOs, none of which was properly achieved.[29] Similarly, the Council on Land Policy was meant to review progress and assist in resolving policy issues that could affect the project's implementation and to work closely with donors to develop the initial policies. However, it was less effective in the local dialogue on state lands, which resulted in weak performance on the Land Management component.[30]

The Cambodian government's supervision and infrastructure also suffered from various shortcomings during implementation. "The legal covenants of the credit agreement were only partly complied with. Financial management was unsatisfactory, particularly with regard to irregular incentive payments for land registration teams. There were instances of mis-procurement that led to the suspension of disbursements following findings of fraud and corruption.”[31]


Although the project had specific objectives set up at the beginning, the M&E methodology was not implemented accordingly, failing to provide visibility and control over progress.

There were comprehensive KPIs envisioned for the Project Development Objectives. They even included KPIs linked to second-order objectives: reduction in conflict over land; greater agricultural productivity; increased access to credit; and an increase in investment in the property sector.[32] However, when the Project Appraisal Document was prepared, it gave no guidance on M&E. "Indicators were poorly specified, no targets were set, and not enough provision was made for baseline and follow-up surveys (...) As late as June 2005, supervision missions expressed concern about the lack of an M&E framework. An M&E manual was not prepared until December 2006.”[33]

The M&E system did not start to function properly until mid-2008, which was already six months after the original termination date. "Baseline surveys were carried out late and follow-up was inadequate. The panel evaluation envisaged at appraisal (involving treatment and control groups) was not carried out.”[34]


There were various shortcomings in implementation, particularly with regard to irregular incentive payments to the land registration teams. In 2004-05, investigations involving the Region, the Bank's Integrity Vice-Presidency and the government uncovered evidence of corruption, collusion and fraudulent practices in seven Bank-financed projects, including the LMAP.

There were important disagreements between the World Bank and the Cambodian government during the latter stages of the project, which led to a termination of the partnership. According to available testimonies by local stakeholders: “The World Bank told us that when they asked the government to register us through the LMAP project, the government told them not to interfere in Cambodian politics (...) Everything was stuck when the government stopped working with the World Bank on this project.”[35] Similarly, villagers were not involved in some of the key elements of the project's preparation, although they were meant to be. “Residents were not adequately involved in the titling process, and they did not have access to a fair and independent dispute resolution mechanism regarding their claims.”[36]

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