Most public educational institutions’ land ‘looted’

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Minister of Education and Science L.Enkh-Amgalan made a shocking announcement last week at the State Palace, claiming that “70 to 80 percent of the land of state-owned schools and kindergartens have been stolen”. In other words, most of the land owned by educational institutions has been transferred to others, laying ground for misuse.

Land traders are “occupying” every vacant space around state-owned schools and kindergartens. The minister’s choice of the word, “stolen”, seems to be logically flawed. It would be more appropriate to say that these lands were “looted” in an organized manner. 

This year, specialists from the Investment Department of the Ministry of Education and Science and the Department of Education conducted a nationwide land survey. They found that in the last seven years, 15.19 hectares of land of state-owned schools and kindergartens have “disappeared”.

More specifically, since 2015, 49 general education schools have lost 9.6 hectares of land, 33 preschool education institutions 5.5 hectares and three universities 0.09 hectares. Of these, four hectares (20 plots of land) were transferred to citizens and private legal entities. However, the rest of the land was given to other government agencies and in the name of correcting measurement errors, land sizes of schools and kindergartens were reduced.

Six of the 20 plots of land that were illegally transferred to citizens and legal entities were taken over by the families and close relatives of the directors and managers of the educational institutions. Meanwhile, the 14 plots of land, where apartments for teachers and workers were constructed, were transferred to the ownership of homeowner associations.

In short, 85 schools and kindergartens lost 15.19 hectares of land in seven years. Actually, 15.19 hectares is not a small size of land. A citizen of Mongolia can own 0.07 hectares of land for family use free of charge once under the Land Law. In other words, schools and kindergartens have lost land equal to 217 citizens’ land. However, information about which schools and kindergartens got their land looted has not been disclosed. The working group that conducted the research explained that it is not possible to provide detailed information on this matter. In particular, a specialist of the Investment Department of the Ministry of Education and Science clarified that the schools have not yet been announced as the probe into this issue is ongoing.

Meanwhile, spokesperson for the education minister Ts.Shinebayar said, “The case related to the land issue of the education sector was transferred to the relevant organizations for investigation. To the extent possible, the ministry has disclosed some information. It is not possible to report more on this at this time.”

The illegal sale and misuse of school and kindergarten lands have been widespread for some time, not just in recent years. This is a problem that has plagued the education sector for many years. But this misappropriation of property has not been stopped or addressed to date. At first, people who were “greedy” for land looted the gymnasium and sports fields of schools and kindergartens. But now, people are blatantly taking land from the vicinity of schools and kindergartens, both openly and covertly.

Not only in the capital, local schools and kindergartens are also facing this problem. Officials at the education ministry pointed out that there was a case where the school land was registered under the name of a foreign tourism company. They also informed, “There were many violations of land ownership rights being unofficially transferred and buildings constructed near schools and kindergartens without permission.” All this shows the extent to which illegal land trade and robbery have expanded.

Minister L.Enkh-Amgalan said, “The ownerships of educational institutions’ land that were illegally transferred to others will be revoked. The related cases will be transferred to the law enforcement agency and the officials who made the decision to transfer the land will be held accountable. The companies who have not officially acquired the right to own land, but have built buildings and sports halls without permission will be held responsible within the law and their assets will be relocated.”

It is commendable that this matter has been brought to the government’s attention and transferred to the relevant organizations. But the main thing is to produce real results. 

The previous ministers also raised this issue concerning land use in the education sector. But no significant measures were taken. As a result of the negligence, irresponsibility and lack of control of successive ministers, this problem has worsened and now, most schools and kindergartens are left with no property other than their building.

In just seven years, 85 educational institutions have lost 15.19 hectares of land. If we can get access to the data from the years before 2015, this amount will definitely be several times higher. Unfortunately, officials claimed that the information and facts of the previous period had not been consolidated yet. However, as a result of surveillance and research, it was found that 70 to 80 percent of educational institutions’ lands have been looted. There are about 1,200 state-owned schools and kindergartens nationwide. This means that about 840 to 960 educational institutions were “robbed”.

In fact, according to the order of the mayor of Ulaanbaatar, it is forbidden to allocate new land near schools and kindergartens, especially to construct buildings and facilities for residential, commercial and service purposes in the vicinity of schools and kindergartens. Additional land is granted only when the educational institution needs to be expanded. Buildings and facilities are allowed to be built near schools and kindergartens for only this purpose, according to the land authorities and geodesy and cartography specialists. In other words, schools and kindergartens should only be able to use their land for educational purposes and expand their activities. However, this regulation is not enforced in reality. Construction companies have built apartments and service facilities without permission on vacant land around schools and kindergartens. The directors or managers of educational institutions have colluded with the private sector and participated in land deals.

For instance, it was reported that a former director of a school in the central district of Ulaanbaatar received several apartments from a construction company in exchange for allowing it to build apartments on the school site. The same or similar scene can be accounted for the cases involving 15.19 hectares of school grounds. The ministry also pointed out that many of the lands looted from educational institutions are owned by people close to school principals and kindergarten teachers.

School and kindergarten buildings are considered special-purpose properties. To that extent, it is important to keep the environment of educational institutions healthy, safe and properly managed. However, most educational institutions in our country are operating in cramped spaces similar to the courtyards of families in ger areas, where there is no space for children to play or learn. In particular, urban schools and kindergartens are located next to residential, commercial and service centers and are operating under conditions that do not meet the minimum standards and safety requirements. Experts say that the situation in rural areas is relatively better, but the land issue remains a pressing issue.

Since the Ministry of Education and Science has already raised this issue, we must put an end to it and protect the few remaining schools and kindergartens’ land. Moreover, it is right to hold accountable the officials who allowed these illegal transfers of state property to others.

In general, the government and Parliament need to pay attention to creating a new legal framework to solve the land issue comprehensively because 23 percent of the cases in court are related to land disputes.

Nonetheless, Parliament is now reviewing the draft revision of the Land Law and other corresponding bills. In accordance with the bill, new land allocation will be planned in line with long, medium and short-term policy documents for Mongolia’s development. The draft revision stipulates that inter-sectoral coordination will be ensured through integrated land planning and registration. The bill initiators vouch that the draft revision would protect the legal rights of citizens and legal entities with land ownership rights and permits granted by the state. Moreover, land certification activities are to be organized via a transparent, fast and accessible e-system. Most importantly, the bill may need to specifically reflect the land issues of the education sector.

Misheel Lkhasuren