08/13/2009, 00.00
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Vietnamese bishops invite the government to take part in dialogue and adopt fair land laws

by J.B. An Dang
Existing land laws are the main cause of the country’s social tensions because they invest all power in the state. This has led to abuses of power and has made corruption easier. Vietnam’s Catholic prelates reiterate Benedict XVI’s view that the Church does not replace the government but seeks only and in a spirit of dialogue and respectful collaboration to play its just role in the life of nation and in the service of the whole people.
Hanoi (AsiaNews) – In an article published by VietCatholic News, the Catholic bishops of Vietnam reminded their government that Vietnamese Catholics are committed to working for the good of the country. They also called on the authorities to accept their appeal for dialogue and review the current land laws which concentrate everything in the hands of the state, creating great opportunities for corruption.

“Public opinion has been greatly concerned by recent disputes regarding Church property,” which have ended with the government taking legal action, including the “prosecutions and imprisonments of Catholics,” the bishops wrote. From their point of view, the main cause for current tensions is Vietnam’s own land laws.

These “laws must be revised to take the right to own private property into consideration as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” Article 13 states in fact that “Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others” and “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.”

For the prelates “instead of resolving the issues by dealing with each case on an individual basis, authorities have to search for a more thorough solution”. They must “let the people have the right to own land and property. People in return must be responsible for” what happens in society.

“This demand becomes more urgent” as a result of “the globalization process,” which is forcing Vietnam to evolve according to global trends.

“This should be the premise” on which people can find solutions to the “complaints and denunciations” in matters concerning “land and property. [. . .] At the same time, [this] contributes to the economic growth and the steady development of the country.”

Furthermore, the bishops note that “[a]ccording to the current Land Laws, all land belongs to the people” with the state as “the representative of ownership.” As such however, “the State has the absolute right to decide the fate of the land. For example, pursuant to Rule 5 of the Land Laws, the State has the following rights: to decide the use of the land, to transfer land, to rent it out, to revoke land use, to modify the purpose of land use, to set value on land, to decide on the limit on land transfer and or set time limit on land use.

Should this enormous power not” be subject to “some guidelines” and an effective supervisory body? If it is not, abuses in land use by decision makers are inevitable, for personal gain, especially “when land becomes a valuable commodity as it is now,” they warn.

“Reality has shown that land has become people's ‘assets’, ‘capital’, ‘commodity’ in today's market. This is the premise or cause for [a] desire to appropriate or gain profits from land.”

Indeed, “land has undoubtedly become a most lucrative source of profit,” a “breeding ground for corruption;” therefore, the goal of land laws must be “to prevent it”.

In “the process of solving disputes, a number of the mass media were” shown “to be effective in spreading doubts and mistrust instead of” encouraging mutual understanding in the nation, the bishops lament.

“Mass media can only bring benefits to people and to society when they serve the truth and give a true reflection of reality.” Instead, “whenever Catholics express views” that are “not in line with the government, state media immediately” blame them for adopting a “‘facing off’ attitude’.”

Quoting from Pope Benedict XVI's speech to Vietnamese bishops on their ad limina visit on June 27, 2009, the article said:  “You know, as well as I do, that healthy collaboration between the Church and the political community is feasible. In this regard, the Church invites all her members to be loyally committed to building a just, supportive and fair society. Her intention is certainly not to replace government leaders; she only wishes to be able to play a fair role in the nation's well being, at the service of the whole people, in a spirit of dialogue and respectful collaboration”.

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