President Tells State, Regional Officials to Wrap Up Land-Grab Probes

By Salai Thant Zin 20 September 2018

PATHEIN, Irrawaddy Region — President U Win Myint has instructed state and regional chief ministers to complete their investigations into land confiscation cases by the end of the year.

“The president has ordered that all land-grab investigations be completed by Dec. 31. He issued the instruction to the whole country, not only to the Irrawaddy regional government,” Irrawaddy Region Chief Minister U Hla Moe Aung said at a press conference in Pathein on Tuesday.

The regional Committee for Rescrutinizing Confiscated Farmlands and Other Lands is working to comply with the president’s order, said U Hla Moe Aung, who is also the chairman of the committee.

“I’ve instructed the chairpersons and secretaries of land committees at the township and district levels to get the job done by Dec. 31,” he said.

The Central Committee for Rescrutinizing Confiscated Farmlands and Other Lands, chaired by Vice President U Henry Van Thio, is tasked with investigating land-grab cases and has counterparts at all administrative levels.

Earlier this month the central committee issued a 52-point set of guidelines to be followed in investigating land-grab cases.

The Irrawaddy regional committee was assigned to investigate 600 cases. So far, it has investigated 102 cases. Investigations are ongoing in 256 cases and the rest have yet to be investigated, said U Tin Win, director of the Department of Agriculture Land Management and Statistics.

The committee only investigates cases that arose after 1988, said U Tin Win, who is also the secretary of the regional committee. Nor does it handle cases already under investigation by farmland management committees, or disputes over land seized from farmers by lenders for failure to repay debts, he added.

The Irrawaddy Region Farmers Union has complained that the investigation will not be fair because many of the chairpersons and secretaries of the village- and ward-level committees, respectively, are administrators from the Land Records Department, whose officials have been involved in land-grab cases in the past.

“Most of the past land-grab cases involved chairmen and secretaries of the ward- and village-level committees. Though lawmakers are involved in the committees, they don’t have much authority,” the chairman of the regional farmers union, U Myo Chit, told The Irrawaddy.

“Regardless of the instructions from lawmakers, they [the chairpersons and secretaries of the committees] may write the reports as they like and present them to the higher authorities,” he added.

“Unless and until civil society organizations representing farmers are included in the land rescrutinizing committees, it will be impossible to learn the truth, and farmers will continue to suffer.”

According to statistics from the Central Committee for Rescrutinizing Confiscated Farmlands and Other Lands, over 200,000 acres of farmland and vacant, fallow land have been seized in Irrawaddy Region for industrial and hotel zone projects, railroad projects, mineral extraction, departmental offices and expansion of cantonments by cronies of officials, companies, government departments and the Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw).

Of the total land seized in Irrawaddy Region, which has six districts, over 170,000 acres were seized in Maubin District alone, according to the committee.

Since 2016, the National League for Democracy-led government has identified 63,417 acres of confiscated farmland to be returned. Farmers have received 13,091 acres; the remaining 50,326 acres have yet to be handed back to the original owners by the responsible departments and regional governments in line with the proper procedures, according to a report on the overall situation in the country regarding land grabs.

State Counselor’s Office Minister U Kyaw Tint Swe submitted the report to the Union Parliament on Thursday.