An independent policy think tank based in the USA  in a recent  report says the compact between Sri Lanka and the United States Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC)  could potentially shift millions of hectares of land in  the country into private control.

The Oakland Institute, in the Report titled  “Driving Dispossession  - The global push to “unlock the economic potential of land ” says the a Land Project focused on mapping and digitizing state lands has the explicit purpose of stimulating investment and increasing its use as an economic asset.

“Motivated by the difficulty the private sector currently faces in acquiring land in Sri Lanka, the project will extensively map and digitize land records of up to 67 percent of the entire country,”  the Report released last week says.

The Oakland Institute, through six case studies – Ukraine, Zambia, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, and Brazil – this report details the various ways by which governments – willingly or under the pressure of financial institutions and so-called donor countries – attempt to privatize land and make it available for exploitation.

It said that when Sri Lanka was considered for an MCC compact in December 2016, a feasibility study was undertaken by the Center for International Development at Harvard University. According to this study, “the difficulty of the private sector in accessing state-owned land for commercial purposes” was one of the major binding constraints to economic growth.

“The MCC compact aims to improve access to land for the private sector through five interventions under the Land Project. The Parcel Fabric Map and State Land Inventory Activity will initially map and record state lands in seven target districts that cover 28 percent of Sri Lanka’s land and potentially extend outside the target districts to cover 67 percent of all land. Creation of this map will be accompanied by digitizing paper titles, converting permits and grants to state land into “absolute land grants, “a computerized appraisal system for land valuation, and establishing a land policy research group.”

The Report said that civil society groups have called on the government to reject the compact and warned that it will result in “land grabs by creditors, the transfer of prime land to multinational corporations, [and] the loss of livelihoods for local farmers.

“For dispossessed groups and ethnic minorities, the prospect of the government determining what land is vacant poses an enormous threat given the country’s history of war-related displacement, internal colonization, and landlessness,” the Report said.

The Oakland Institute did case studies of six countries including Sri Lanka to  show how governments pass new laws, create land markets, conduct land reforms, and sign Public Private Partnerships to open more lands and natural resources to exploitation. “This trend  is largely encouraged by Western governments and private foundations, as well as international institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).”

The Report added that as  people’s very presence and resistance is seen as an obstacle to investment and business, many governments around the world have been prompted to adopt the Western capitalist notion of private land ownership.

“This includes the creation of land markets so that land can be leased or sold and put into so-called “productive use” to “unlock its value. The World Bank is a key factor in the push to privatize and commodify land. In 2017, its Enabling the Business of Agriculture report prescribed to governments the series of measures they should take to “enhance the productivity of land use” and encourage agribusiness expansion,” the Report said. It added that the key policy prescriptions included formalizing private property rights, easing the sale and lease of land for commercial use, systematizing the sale of public land by auction, and improving procedures for expropriation.

Link to full report below.