Railway compensation targeted for this month, Parliament told

VIENTIANE (Vientiane Times/ANN) - Compensation for people affected by the construction of the Laos-China railway and related facilities is expected to be paid out this month after a long delay, authorities in charge told the National Assembly (NA) last week.

“We will strive to begin compensation payments by the end of June,” Minister of Public Works and Transport Dr Bounchanh Sinthavong told the ongoing 5th ordinary session of the NA’s 8th Legislature.

The minister was responding to questions raised by Assembly members on policy and progress made towards compensating people who had lost land and other property to make way for the under-construction railway and the planned development of expressways in Laos.

Some NA members noted that many people had been waiting a very long time for compensation.

As the US$5.986 billion (37.4 billion yuan) project was planned and announced some years ago, people along the railway route gave up farming, including rice cultivation, which had adversely affected their livelihoods, NA members said. Pledging the start of compensation in the coming weeks, the minister said the combined cost of compensation and the construction of roads to access the planned 11 railway stations along the 409-km line, which falls under the responsibility of the Lao government, was more than 2,492 billion kip.

People’s Councils of the provinces of Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Oudomxay and Luang Namtha as well as the capital Vientiane, through which the railway will pass, have approved the rate of compensation.

Dr Bounchanh pledged transparent, fair and verifiable compensation in line with the relevant laws and regulations.

Compensation will be paid through the National Treasury under the Ministry of Finance. A manual has been compiled detailing how compensation is to be paid.

“The National Treasury will manage the compensation accounts and authorise payments,” he told parliament.

The loss of all property, including land, buildings, fences, crops, and trees will be compensated for.

The compensation unit price is calculated based on the market price and the government’s policy on compensation, Dr Bounchanh said. The price of the land use rights of nearby plots that were recently sold was taken into account when calculating the amount of compensation.

Also taken into account was the Prime Ministerial Decree on Compensation and Resettlement for People Affected by Development Projects. The decree states that compensation offered to affected villagers must ensure that they enjoy better living conditions or at least have the same facilities as before they were displaced.

Compensation and resettlement must also be carried out in a just, fair and open manner with the involvement of the project developer, villagers, state officials and other stakeholders.

Given the limited budget, Dr Bounchanh said priorities had been defined with regard to compensation and payments would be made periodically depending on financial capacity.

Priority will be given to paying for rice for people whose fields can no longer be cultivated as well as paying rental payments for people who now have to rent a home because the new houses being built under the project are not yet finished.

As of May 31, construction of the railway linking Vientiane to the Chinese border was 33.8 percent complete. The five-year construction plan has a completion date of 2021.