Thailand‘s land administration system is viewed as an efficient and transparent model for other countries. Multiple government ministries and agencies are involved, each authorized by different laws and with separate mandates. Responsibility for agricultural and residential land management, including titling and registration, rests with the Department of Lands of the Ministry of Interior, which operates through a system of provincial and district land offices. Most administrative procedures can be completed in less than a day, and land registration costs around 1% of the property’s value.
The National Land Allocation Committee that is established in the Land Code is now chaired by the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE). Formed in 2002, MONRE is responsible for water and forest management, among other areas. Among MONRE agencies, the Royal Forest Department (RFD) has historically been a powerful actor managing national forest reserves and protected areas. The Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives includes the Agricultural Land Reform Office and Land Development Department, which are responsible for allocating land to farmers and land-use classification, respectively.
The 1954 Land Code establishes a division between private property, which is legally protected by land titles, and state land, which includes all land “over which no one has possessory rights”. State land may be given as concessions, rented or leased by the government; separate provisions pertain to mining and forestry. Alone in Southeast Asia, Thai law allows foreign investors to own land, under particular restrictions and at lower amounts than Thai citizens. Among other relevant pieces of legislation are the 1975 Agricultural Land Reform Act, 1983 Land Development Act, and 2004 Land Readjustment Act. In 2007, Thailand passed a Community Forest Bill after more than 15 years of consultations between the RFD and civil society groups. However, in 2009 the Constitutional Court ruled that the 1961 National Park Act took precedence, and the Community Forest Bill never became law. The MONRE minister noted that many other land allocation schemes have failed as land fell into the hands of landlords.
According to the interim Constitution promulgated by the military government that took power in 2014, the ruling National Council for Peace and Order “shall have power to order, restrain, or perform any act, whether such act has legislative, executive, or judicial force.” This includes amending or reversing existing laws or procedures, including those concerning land. For instance, in May 2015, Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha issued Order No. 17/2015 to declare five special economic zones (SEZs) resulting in expropriation of land. In order to narrow disparities in land access, the government plans to allocate 195,000 rai (31,200 ha) of state land in 47 provinces to over 43,000 landless families; the land will be managed by cooperatives, not privately owned.