New bill to clamp down on foreign land ownership through nominees
Source:Bangkok Post August 19 2009
The Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry is drafting a bill to protect rice paddies from a feared massive land grab by foreigners.
The draft law will be the first to fully protect farmland, deputy permanent secretary for agriculture Thawatchai Samrongwattana said. The bill will set out clear measures to prohibit foreigners from buying land through Thai nominees, he said yesterday.
Recently, rumors have spread that foreign businessmen have been snapping up rice-growing land, particularly in central Thailand, through proxy Thai companies to produce rice and other crops to ensure future food supplies for their own countries, or to fend off starvation at home.
Transnational business consortiums are said to be holding the land through Thai nominees, which is against the law.
Some Thai farmers are reportedly leasing land they previously owned but have since sold to the foreigners' proxy firms, observers said.
The bill will also address land ownership by foreigners who marry Thais.
Under the draft bill, each land purchase by Thais married to foreigners would be closely scrutinized by Land Department officials and a provincial farmland protection panel, Mr Thawatchai said.
He said the bill would allow the immediate revocation of the rights of plots found to be held by foreign businesses through Thai proxies. The committee would be authorised to arrange the resale of such land.
About 60 million rai of irrigation land, including areas where the Land Department will build reservoirs, and land belonging to the Agricultural Land Reform office, would be protected by the bill, he said.
The agriculture minister will table the draft bill for the cabinet's consideration next month before submitting it to parliament for approval, Mr Thawatchai said.
"The ministry intends the bill to become law within this year," he said.
The bill would allow for a fund to be set up to protect farmland. The government would be required to allocate a budget to manage the fund and buy back land from foreigners. Farmers could also take out loans from the fund to invest in developing the land for agricultural purposes, Mr Thawatchai said.
A central committee would be set up under the bill with the prime minister as chairman. It would comprise experts and representatives from the private and agricultural sectors.
The committee would regulate the use of farmland or revoke the ownership of farmland that had been purchased through nominees.
A provincial land protection committee would also be set up and chaired by a provincial governor.
Land owners could not appeal the central committee's decision, he said.
The deputy permanent secretary said the bill had been model led on similar laws in foreign countries, such as Japan and the US, which heavily regulate land ownership.
Kasem warns against "greed" in land buys
Bangkokpost March 27 2012
Share Privy Councillor Kasem Wattanachai has warned Thais against helping foreigners acquire land following reports many rice fields are being sold and rented to investors from the Middle East.
He said people should not let "greed" draw them into cooperating with these foreigners because farmland should be reserved for Thai farmers as their place of work and for their livelihood.
His Majesty the King once encouraged farmers in Sakon Nakhon to take good care of their land by telling them they will have a better future if they follow appropriate farming practices, he said.
Dr Kasem's comments refer mainly to land acquisition attempts by Middle East businessmen.
However, according to a study by Piyanut Potawanit, a law lecturer from the National Institute of Development Administration, investors from elsewhere also own vast amounts of land in Thailand via local nominees.
The study, sponsored by the Ombudsman, claims up to one third of land in Thailand is owned by foreigners.
Dr Kasem raised concerns over foreigners acquiring land yesterday during a speech at a seminar on rural development.
The countryside has less advanced facilities than cities, he said.
However, it can still be improved if residents love and take good care of their land, he said