Sri Lanka can request to drop land deed reform from Millennium Challenge grant: Official

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka may request to remove a land deed modernization project using grant aid from America’sMillennium Challenge Corporation, the agency’ Sri Lanka country chief said, as conspiracy theories swirled around the project.

“Right now the government has proposed to us a 480 million dollar grant: 350mn for transport and 67 million dollars for land,” Jenner Edelman, Sri Lanka country director for the Millennium Challenge Corporation said.

“We have not received a request from the government to modify that in any way.

“We understand that land administration is a priority for Sri Lanka.”

“If that is not a priority for Sri Lanka it will have to communicate that to us and ask to modify the agreement.”

Edelman was speaking at a forum organized by Advocata Institute, a Colombo based free market think tank.

However she said in the history of the MCC, this was the first time a country had proposed projects and failed to go ahead, after the agency’s board approved it.

She was responding to a question from the audience whether other components which includes urban traffic management and road building around which there were no conspiracy theories.

“We modify these agreements all the time,” Edelman said. “It took us three year to get to this level. Things change all the time.”

Sri Lanka’s existing land deed system was set up by British colonials.

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The land deed reform is aimed at reducing frauds now found in the system and will also strengthen the rights of women bringing in the concept of co-ownership.

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The conspiracy theory was that after the land deed modernization project, America will buy up the land as people, especially the poor who have got land from the state get freehold.

Sarath Jayatilleke, a former Deputy Surveyor General said several governments have tried to improve the property rights of state land given to farmers so that they could sell or mortgage land, and it was a reform that pre-dated the MCC project by many years.

Using technology helped speed up the award of deeds, he said.

In Sri Lanka anti-freeholders have gone to court to deny property rights. Freehold land, where ordinary people have the absolute right to sell and divide land emerged in Britain.

Before that all land was owned by the King. In Sri Lanka land was controlled by the king or in some cases by temples and others who had got land grants from the king.

People used land on a variety of tenure systems, including Wadawassam (service tenure) students of history say. Service tenure was abolished by the British.

Western nations grew faster than Asia partly as a result of freehold, economic analysts say.

In 1873, during the Meiji Restoration reformers, who realized that economic freedom generated property, created Western-style private land in Japan by law, ending the feudal Tokugawa Shogunate.

Agricultural productivity grew soon after and profits were used for industrialization. By the turn of the century Japan was a developed nation.

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In Sri Lanka however private land ownership, which was started to emerge partly with accommodesans during the Dutch period, had a setback when the British created state (Crown) land out of unused property through the Waste Lands Ordinance, blocking wider spread of freehold.

After independence, large tracts of freehold created during colonial rule, were expropriated by the state from private persons, in ‘land reform’, violating their property rights.

Other property belonging to businessmen and foreign investors were also expropriated,

Even now foreigners can buy land in Japan because citizens have absolute freedom.