Anti-Corruption Commission Detains 4 Land Officials in Gwa Township

By Htet Naing Zaw 10 January 2019

NAYPYITAW—The national Anti-Corruption Commission on Tuesday detained four local land-registration officials in Gwa Township, in southern Rakhine State’s Thandwe District, under the Anti-Corruption Law.

The current head of the township Settlement and Land Records Department, his deputy, a clerk and a retired officer were detained, Lower House lawmaker Myint Wai of Gwa Township confirmed.

“They were arrested for allegedly taking bribes to facilitate land transactions. Locals have complained of around five incidents involving the four,” U Myint Wai said.

Gwa Township police confirmed the arrests. “The commission has taken them to Thandwe,” township police chief Police Captain Aye Tun told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday.

Residents of Sapp Thwar and Kan Tharyar villages filed complaints with the anti-graft body both individually and collectively, U Myint Wai said.

“Land is valuable in Gwa, which is close to the sea. Sometimes the land expands naturally as sandbanks form. An acre of it is worth around 200 million kyats. According to the complaints, [the detained officials] took money to issue Form-7 certificates [for such land],” he said.

The Form-7 certificate was created under the 2012 Farm Land Law. It allows holders to engage in farming on a given piece of land.

The total amount the officials sought is unknown, but in a transaction involving a land plot in Kan Tharyar village in July last year, the department received 63 million kyats for allowing a newly formed piece of land measuring 0.63 acres to be included in the sale, said local resident U Maung Tin.

“I filed the complaint. Then the commission made inquiries to me and others,” U Maung Tin said. Those cases date to between 2014 and 2018, according to Gwa residents.

The residents added that the Myanmar Army has abandoned some of the land it confiscated in Gwa when the country was under military rule. However, many original owners have yet to recover their land, as disputes between them and recent buyers, mostly private companies, have yet to be resolved.

U Kyin Ke, a farmers’ rights activist, accused the department of facilitating illegal land acquisitions by private companies.

“The private companies receive more land on the ground than what is officially recorded on the documents. An acre is worth at least 70 million kyats,” he said, alleging that the companies pay the authorities money to keep quiet.

Referring to the arrest of the four officials, he said, “It is only the tip of the iceberg. There are many cases that go unreported on the ground.”