The landowner concept will affect poor people, farmers and women

by Ines Noronha Martins, Timor-Leste, ELP 2014
Written on July 19, 2014.

Land issue in Timor-Leste is a very sensitive and complicated case because the previous systems introduced by the Portuguese and Indonesian governments were done in unfair processes. They took huge land from populations through the tax systems, applied land titles, forced labor and moved people from towns to live in villages. These systems are now affecting people’s right (farmers, women and poor people) to access and use land.

To resolve the problem the Timor-Leste Government, specially the Ministry of Justice, in 2008-2012 produced three Land Laws: Land Law, Expropriation Law and Real Estate Finance Fund. The ministry was assisted by USAID via the Ita Nia Rai Program that drafted the 3 Land Laws and registered a total of 50,000 land parcels in 13 districts (in districts capitals only). The draft Land Law was brought to public consultation in 2009-2010. The Council of Ministers approved the proposed Land Law and sent it to the Parliaments in 2010. Members of the Parliaments approved and sent the law to the Timor-Leste president in February 2012. The president vetoed the proposed Land Law in March 2012, because these 3 land laws were not considered to reflect people’s needs, particularly poor people. He also considered the law would give more power to the State and those who have money and power to have more land.

In 2013, the Minister of Justice reviewed these three draft land laws and submitted them back to the Parliament. The 3 new reviewed land laws are currently waiting for discussion and approval from the Parliament this year. This land law will create new conflicts in the future because the main objective of this law is just to define “who can own a land”.

When we talk about the concept “landowner,” the objective is merely to define the property owner to respond to the monetary/market demand. The example can be seen in Sub-Sahara Africa, Southeast Asia and now Timor-Leste where the concept of “landowner” is oriented by the government and financial institution in order to facilitate them to exercise their interest on development and exploiting the land. If we based the Land Law on this concept, farmers and poor people will be the ones who suffer the most because they will lose their land, the foundation for their sustainable life.

The government and financial institution do not consider the fundamental meanings of land. They considered land just as an economic commodity. The Timor-Leste people, farmers, women and poor people are depending on the land because land is their ancestral place. Land is a family’s guarantee to survive as well as part of their cultural and social system. The Timor-Leste communities share the benefit and protect the environment based on their own traditional system commonly known as Tara Bandu.

In Sub-Saharan Africa the financial institutions recognized that apply the land title to the community was not working as they have expected and created more problems because people started to sell their land, which reduces the productivity in the agriculture sector and does not guarantee the safety for families. What is more important is to have a land policy to redistribute land, improving access and use the land as the foundation of their livelihood.