Govt Probes Farms Allegedly Owned By U Thein Sein, Ex-Ministers Illegally

By Htet Naing Zaw 23 August 2018

NAYPYITAW — The government is inspecting more than 900 acres (364 hectares) of land allegedly acquired illegally by former President U Thein Sein and his cabinet members near the village of Za Laung in Ottarathiri Township in Naypyitaw.

A task force formed by the Naypyitaw Council began on Thursday to investigate whether the land was being used to grow mangos, as per its stated purpose.

Upper House lawmaker U Maung Maung Swe, who is leading the task force, told The Irrawaddy that the probe follows complaints from 169 local farmers and that a report would be submitted to the council chairman.

“Some people are very sensitive about the ownership of that land. We won’t target individual owners. We will just check whether or not those people are really growing mango plantations,” he said.

It is not clear whether any inactive land will be confiscated.

The land, located near milepost 211 on the Yangon-Mandalay Expressway, was previously owned by the Forest Department and had been used by local farmers for decades. In 2011 the department handed it over to the former ministers without any official documentation, said U Maung Maung Swe.

According to U Tin Min Naing, a representative of the farmers, the land was now owned by 16 people including former President U Thein Sein and cabinet members U Hla Tun, U Kyaw Kyaw Win, U Tin Naing Thein, U Thein Tun, U Kyaw Has, Major General Aung Than Htut, Attorney General U Aye Maung, Major General Ye Aung and current Labor Minister U Thein Swe.

“The [former] president took 204 acres, and the rest took 50 acres each. They took the land in July 2010 and started [plantations] in 2011,” said U Tin Min Naing.

The land was permitted for growing mangos, agarwood and rubber, and a minimum 50 acres of land had to be bought at a price of 50,000 kyats ($33.25) per acre, said a source close to the accused ex-ministers.

“Now the mango plantations are yielding. So the owners don’t want to give the land back. How can they? They bought it from the government; the government sold that lands to them. If [farmers] are not happy, they should complain to the current government, which succeeded the previous government. Or they should complain to the Forest Department,” said the source, who did not want to be named.

He claimed that the farmers had been compensated twice — once by the Forest Department and again by the former ministers.

“Why did they name U Thein Sein? Their statement [on social media] is wrong. None of that land is owned under the name of U Thein Sein. I think it is a deliberate political attack,” he said.

U Tin Min Naing said the former president compensated rice farmers 500,000 kyats per acre in 2012, but not those farming other crops. He said former Deputy Immigration Minister U Kyaw Kyaw Win also compensated the farmers, but at a lower rate.

“Army chief Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing compensated them 500,000 kyats per acre up to 50 acres,” he said, adding that they were also compensated by former Parliament Farmland Committee Chairman Major-General Tin Tun, former First Industry Minister U Aung Thaung, former Mandalay Region Chief Minister U Ye Myint and the Dagon International Company.

According to U Maung Maung Swe, people are legally required to apply to the government for the right to use vacant and virgin land. But he said the Land Records Department had no documentation that the former officials had done so.

“They gave that land directly, as if it were an inheritance, and they were not recorded in government records. So now we have to inspect them thoroughly,” he said.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.