26 December 2008

East Timor "Our Land" Program records 302 land claims


The USAID-funded 'Ita Nia Rai', or ‘Our Land’ program, working through the National Directorate for Land and Property (DNTPSC) has already collected 302 land claims in two pilot areas in Liquica and Manatuto districts, Timor-Leste.

One of the first in Timor-Leste to make a land claim was Mrs. Madalena Soares da Silva, a widow from the Ma'abat area of Manatuto District. Mrs. Soares had to say about the process: “I feel happy that I have made my claim because in the future the government will give me a title to my land. The land I am living on now was handed down to me from my grandfather through my mother. They are dead now, so the land has come to me. I agreed on my boundaries with my neighbors and we didn’t have any problems about that.”

Until now, nobody has disputed Mrs. da Silva’s land claim. She hopes that, with the passage of the Government’s long-awaited Land Law there will be a formal recognition of her right to the land in the form of a land title. ‘Ita Nia Rai’’s Field Manager in Manatuto district confirmed that in Manatuto, very few disputes have arisen so far.

Project Specialist, David Alves Lopes, said that the reaction in communities was very positive Overall, people are just appreciative of the opportunity to make their claim, and they are understanding that others must also have the same opportunity.”

According to Mr. Antonio Verdial, the Director of the DNTPSC, this important program will be expanded to other areas in 2009. “Based on the success of the program in the pilot areas, we plan to open the process in two new areas in early 2009, Aileu [South of Dili] and Baucau [the country’s second largest city, East of Dili]. To this end, we have already begun consulting with the local authorities there, and they are ready to welcome the program,” commented Director Verdial.

The land claims collection process began in mid-November in two pilot areas, Manatuto and Liquica towns. The program was officially launched on November 6th 2008 by the Minister of Justice and the United States Ambassador, the first ever community level initiative to strengthen land rights in Timor-Leste. According to Article 54 of Timor-Leste’s Constitution, every citizen has the right to private property.

The Ita Nia Rai (‘Our Land’) program is a five-year project funded by The United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Working with the DNTPSC and the Ministry of Justice, the program provides technical and policy support to develop a sustainable and transparent property rights system in Timor-Leste, through its implementing partners ARD Inc, ACDI/VOCA, Land Equity International, and the local NGO Belun.

- Ends For more information please contact: Breanna Ridsdel, bridsdel@sprtl.tl

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