Controversial land plan reborn

Published (BangkokPost): 19/01/2009 at 11:18 AM

Fifteen years ago, then the Democrat-led government was forced to dissolve the House after it was humiliated by the Opposition in the parliament over abuses of power in the sor por kor 4-01 land scheme. Today, it wants to resurrect the same programme.

The spectre of the sor por kor 4-01 land reform scandal which toppled the Democrat-led government back in 1984 is returning to haunt the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. This time around however the government appears determined to revive the controversial land reform programme and to recoup its bad name in association with the land reform scheme.

Deputy Interior Minister Thavorn Senniam of the Democrat party announced that the government would revive the sor por kor 4-01 land reform programme to allocate up to 16 million rai of land to landless people.

Immediately after the announcement, the opposition Puea Thai party said it would include the issue in its planned no-confidence debate against the government, in particular the Democrats. The party also claimed that certain members of the government had already occupied huge plots of land, as many as hundreds of thousands rai, in Surat Thani, Krabi, Phang-nga and Phuket provinces through their nomiees with the hope that they would be granted with the sor por kor 4-01 land certificates by the government.

Back in 1984, the Democrat-led government led by then prime minister Chuan Leekpai was forced to dissolve the House after it came under heavy attacks by the Opposition over abuses of the land reform programme. Then agriculture minister Suthep Thuagsuban was accused of granting sor por kor 4-01 land certificates to rich landlords in Phuket, including Tossaporn Vanich, husband of Suthep’s assistant secretary, Mrs Anchalee Vanich. The land reform programme has been suspended since then. Also, the Supreme Court eventually revoked Tossaporn’s sor por kor 4-01 certificates coverning 98 rai of land in Phuket on the ground that the documents were not properly issued because Tossaporn is not an agriculturalist as stipulated in the law.

The sor por kor 4-01 land reform scheme was intended to solve the problem of widespread illegal occupation of state land in forest reserves or national parks by providing land certificates to the land grabbers who are actually landless poor. The scheme was however badly abused as rich people also grabbed the state land, especially prime plots with commercial prospect, and tried to claim the land rights.

It is indeed an irony that the man who spearheaded the censure debate against the Democrats over a decade ago, Newin Chidchob, is now in the same boat with the Democrats who want to resurrect the same land reform scheme which caused their political demise. This time around however, the Friends of Newin faction do not object to the programme and has given the Democrats the benefit of doubt. It was nevertheless speculated that the Friends of Newin faction might have struck a quid pro quo deal with the Democrats in exchange for their support or, at least, for not objecting to the scheme outright.

Anyhow, the Democrats cannot expect to have a smooth ride of the scheme which is fraught with loopholes and open to abuses, especially by the politicians themselves who will be tempted to lay claim to the state land. Moreover, it was feared that the revival of the scheme would ignite a new round of land-grabbing rush, resulting to illegal invasion of our fast-depleting forested lands.

The revival of the land reform programme represents a big gamble for the Democrats. They failed badly last time. So, it remains to be seen whether they will succeed this time or they will end up committing another cardinal mistake.