Land Dispute Resolution Plagued by Graft: Lawmakers

By May Sitt Paing 29 May 2015

RANGOON — Lawmakers have expressed concern that some low-level bureaucrats are misappropriating lands confiscated by the government that are supposed to be returned to their former owners—and in the process lining their own pockets.

The 2012 Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Lands Management Law requires local land use management committees, which are under the Union-level Central Land Use Management Committee, to handle the returning of confiscated lands to their claimants.

Under the law, government departments that have made land-grabs must return the lands through the respective land use management committees, which are formed with local officials of concerned General Administration Departments, and departmental personnel and lawmakers.

The misappropriation, explained lawmaker Ye Htun from Hsipaw Township, occurs when land claimants do not have land ownership certificates and have only receipts for the taxes they have paid to the government for using the land. Land use management committees do not recognize those receipts, rendering those lands legally ownerless and allowing corrupt bureaucrats to instead grant ownership to other interested parties who pay them for a land title, he said.

“I have never heard of such corrupt staff members being punished, and in some cases [they] can cheat in line with law,” said Ye Htun.

During a parliamentary session this week, 27 lawmakers discussed actions taken by the Central Land Use management Committee in response to reports of a parliamentary Land Acquisition Investigation Commission.

The discussion called for providing fair compensation to those who do not get back their lands and the drafting of a law that ensures original landowners get back their lands and tackles corruption of low-level bureaucrats.

“Returned lands should really get back into the hands of their original land owners. Though the government [land use] committee said that they are returning [the lands], the situation is totally different on the ground. The government [land use] committee does not report that how much lands were confiscated from farmers,” said Lower House lawmaker Min Thu from Ottarathiri Township.

Lawmakers said that the report of the government’s central land use committee does not provide the name list of recipients of returned lands. They suggested holding a tripartite meeting between the Central Land Use management Committee, Parliament and farmers whose lands have been grabbed. They added that the report fails to mention the prosecuting and imprisonment of farmers who have been jailed in recent years for staging land-grab protests.

The parliamentary Central Land Use management Committee received 14,499 complaints of land-grabs between Nov. 11, 2013, and May 15, 2015. The Central Land Use management Committee has handled 7,697 of them and 6,802 remain unresolved, according to lawmakers.

Brig-Gen Kyaw Zan Myint, secretary of the Central Land Use management Committee and deputy minister for home affairs, acknowledged during a parliamentary session on Monday that land policy in Burma has proved fertile grounds for corruption.

“We’ll continue investigating the remaining cases. We have to be very careful because of ownership disputes. It is very complicated. … It is everyone’s knowledge that some are taking advantage of this [complicated situation].”

In Rangoon alone, there were 1,738 complaints about land-grabs between 2012 and March 2015, with 925 cases yet to be resolved.

“Farmers [in Rangoon] who filed complaints said that authorities have come to their places three or four times to investigate, but still they do not receive a response,” said Aung Thein Lin, a Lower House lawmaker from South Okkalapa Township.

“If [the committee] made public which complaints have been handled and how many acres have been returned, we’d be able to respond to victims,” he said.

On May 21, a 62-year-old man self-immolated in protest against the Burma Army’s confiscation of large areas of land in a village in Taunggyi, Shan State.

Land confiscations by the government have dogged Burma for decades but only in recent years, with the greater freedoms afforded by the quasi-civilian government, has the issue been brought to the fore.

Parliament’s Farmland Investigation Commission was established in 2012 to probe the issue and allow victims of land-grabs to lodge claims with the government.