Comprehensive National Compensation Policy: A means to realise SDGs for the benefit of those affected by capital and development projects

Part 3

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Photo by Shane McLendon on Unsplash

1. Introduction

Beyond 2015, United Nations member states have agreed on a new agenda and set of goals – Sustainable Development Goals or Agenda 2030. This is an agenda that acts as a conceptual theoretic mitigating tool against failing economic models that require urgent and deep structural changes and construction of people centred societal development. Taking from its predecessor, Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), this new agenda focuses on development and promises to combat inequalities, to protect and promote human rights, building a peaceful, just and inclusive society, raising basic standards of living and fostering equitable social development.

As presented in the International Society and Sustainable Development Goals, “full development cannot be sustained when communities and societies are left behind, disconnected and disenfranchised.” Focusing on how development and social justice are intricately linked, the development goals primarily concentrate on bridging the gap that perpetuate political, social and economic injustices and inequalities in order to foster a healthy and equitable society. The principle of equality that underpin social justice and the development goals entail material distribution of income and equal treatment in terms of resources, opportunity and capacity. The development goals introduce the pertinence of the right to development in order to address social injustices that result in inequality and poverty.

Large capital intensive development projects are expected to increase to support attainment of these new development goals. At the same time and as a matter of practice, these projects increase the risk to the vulnerable people’s livelihood. The same projects which are aimed at development may impoverish and adversely impact the vulnerable people in our societies and communities. While development projects have had positive impact on the lives of some people, they also present enormous human risks which are sometimes not adequately mitigated.

However, there is evidence that negative effects of large scale development projects have not been adequately managed. This essay highlights the need for government to design, adopt and effectively implement interventionist safeguard policies for those affected. These policies need to be developed in alignment with the sustainable development goals which are intrinsically people centred.

2. Compensation and Development Goals

One of the two core guiding principles of the SDGs is that “no one should be left behind”. This catchphrase indicates the clearest and purest aspirations in achieving the committed development goals. It communicates the greatest ambitions centred around equitability and justice. In this respect, Agenda 2030 for sustainable development inter alia targets building pacific, justice-oriented and inclusive societies that protect human rights and create the conditions for economic, sustainable, inclusive and sustained growth. According to the United Nations General Assembly, it is a long journey towards human dignity in which no one is left behind. It is development centred around people, their prosperity and the welfare of the planet.

The Millennium Development Goals Report 2015 noted that the most vulnerable segments of the society have been left behind, including the poorest and the disadvantaged due to the geographic location among the other things. The “no one should be left behind” mantra is intended to ensure that the dimensional aimed at empowering those who may be left behind are designed and implemented.

A Comprehensive Compensation Policy and a consequent legal framework are one of the guidelines needed to ensure that those structural programs to ensure adequate compensation for expropriation of land and property, development induced displacement are developed and implemented. It is at the centre of gravity as an interventionist strategy to ensure that the most vulnerable who without any fault on their part are deprived off the use of the land and all it has been offering them for generations.

Leaving no one behind is a catchphrase that ensures that those affected by development projects are not left impoverished and more vulnerable. This is why the government, under social justice, as a primary agent of justice and development bears the responsibility to regulate, deliver and enforce rights for the dignity of human beings. In this context, lack of clear and consistent regulation on how to calculate compensation equitably has left a lot of people behind.

Unless strategic steps are taken to address the compensation problem, there is a high risk that the vulnerable and marginalised people will be left behind in desolation. As required, all should benefit from the Agenda 2030 as a developmental prerequisite for equity and justice. It is thus imperative that the government, civil society organisations, academia and the private sector join efforts and direct resources for the benefit of the poor. One essential structural policy framework is the compensation policy and the consequent legislative guidelines and regulations.

3. Compensation Policy as an Empowering Tool

The gravity to design policy interventions and strategies to meet the challenges as regards compensation lies with the government. The government has a duty to address socio-economic injustices that may result in inequalities and disempowerment that may result from economic and political forces. Addressing inequalities as a policy objective would inevitably result in poverty reduction and empowerment.

The apparently unfair compensation practices are acutely felt by those who are already victims in the expropriation process. As stated in the previous article, for example, the LHDA has overwhelming power in the expropriation (appropriation) and practically in dictating the compensation terms. Certain authorities have statutory powers to compulsorily expropriate land where the taking of such property is necessary for the achievement of specific and identified objectives of the expropriating authority. While compensation is a fundamental human rights issue provided for in the Constitution, 1993 there has not been a policy or a specific remedial legal framework/ instrument intended to regulate and govern compensation after expropriation.

Given the practical cases of people claiming to have been underpaid, there is a high chance of disempowering those affected while deepening and widening the inequality gap. When people are unable to participate fairly in socio-economic issues that affect them directly, they are more likely to live undignified lives as victims of a process they never brought unto themselves. With little less than nothing, financially, socially and legally, these victims have no moral and legal technical know-how on how to challenge the status quo.

This in turn breeds instability and may lead to unstable, violent and dysfunctional relations between the society and the expropriating authorities. What is often ignored is the asymmetric pattern of development and economic relations between the poor and the powerful expropriating agencies and authorities encourage manipulation of the system by the most powerful actors. As a result, the victims of the expropriating process are left behind. The Supreme Court of Canada stated in Toronto Area Transit Operating Authority vs. Dell Holdings Ltd. [1997] 1 S.C.R. 32, at para. 20:

“The expropriation of property is one of the ultimate exercises of governmental authority.  To take all or part of a person’s property constitutes a severe loss and a very significant interference with a citizen’s private property rights.  It follows that the power of an Expropriating Authority should be strictly construed in favour of those whose rights have been affected.”

Targeted interventions are important in that they provide social support to the vulnerable. Realisation or giving life to universal goals by engaging, designing and developing sustainable policy frameworks to protect and to promote the rights of the vulnerable offers a better chance to developmental politics and policies. There is a dire need for strong political will to stand for the vulnerable, to take steps to address their grievances and to follow through with scaling mechanisms to monitor the progress.

4. Conclusion

Sustainable Development Goals have ensured that such ideas as social justice are included in the lexicon of development. In capital intensive development projects and expropriation, there is a need to adhere to “leaving no one behind” in order to conceive policies and laws to protect and to promote the rights of those adversely affected by any action which they did not bring unto themselves.

Compensation Policy and legal framework to address the current issues around compensation are needed to shift the balance and to ensure inclusion of everyone in the developmental process. It is worth noting that Sustainable Development Goals are not a panacea but are rather foundational to sustainable policies and legal frameworks engineered to protect the vulnerable and marginalised members of the society by ensuring that “no one is left behind.”


Under the Department of Social Justice, the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) identified a problem with the compensation after expropriation scheme and it is advocating for structural reforms in that regard. That is to say, TRC is promoting and advocating for designing and adoption of policies and regulatory framework to ensure that the compensation schemes for expropriation are fit and able to realise the need to balance the economic need to improve the infrastructure or to engage in development projects without leaving the most vulnerable worse off. To this extent, the TRC has a draft National Compensation Policy ready to assist the government. The current essay is one of the 5 essays to be published as a series for 5 consecutive weeks. The purpose of these essays is to analyse and explain how expropriation of land and property are undertaken in an effort to clarify the dire need for formulation of a uniform comprehensive framework to influence stable, efficient and fair compensation practices. 

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