Sunday, August 20, 2017

Local farmland committees formed to slice backlog

In a bid to address the enormous and still mounting backlog of land grab claims, local-level committees are being formed across Myanmar in order to analyse and resolve the disputes.

President U Htin Kyaw established the Central Committee for Re-scrutinising Confiscated Farmlands and Other Lands in May, and appointed Vice President Henry Van Thio as chair.

According to the parliamentary farmer affairs committee, the government inherited more than 6000 cases. The onslaught of complaints only continued to build up following the National League for Democracy’s election campaign promise to resolve the feuds and return acreage to disposed farmers.

In Pyin Oo Lwin, regional MP U Aung Min (NLD; 1), told The Myanmar Times that the committees were making their way through claims despite some trepidation from farmers.

“The farmland committees are being formed and people are being trained in order to better manage the disputes that arise. These committees are being formed at the district and township level and will analyse and resolve claims in accordance with the law,” U Aung Min said.

“Some farmers are wary of these committees as under previous governments similar bodies have not been able to satisfactorily resolve these land disputes, but we are trying to assure them that their claims will be dealt with fairly,” he added.

The committees are generally made up of farmers’ representatives, township officials, departmental officials, and NLD and USDP members, according to U Aung Min.

Last month a farmers organisation based in Nay Pyi Taw raised concerns these local-level committees were plagued by serious conflicts of interest, due to some staffers’ previous involvement in forced land seizure disputes under previous governments.

But at least in Pyin Oo Lwin, the local committee appears to be making headway. So far, 35 out of the more than 200 pending claims have been resolved by the local farmland committee. In the Mandalay Region township, many disputes concern land confiscation complaints from local farmers accusing the previous government of seizing land and granting it to businessmen for large-scale agricultural projects.

The hluttaw recently formed a parliamentary committee to deal with these types of cases.

“We have received a list of projects which were approved by the forestry department. Field surveys will be carried out next week. If the projects do not fit the 22 criteria deemed necessary by the department then the confiscated lands will be returned to the farmers,” a member of this parliamentary committee said.

In July, the vice president issued temporary land use certificates to dozens of farmers in Mandalay’s Madaya township as part of a drive to restore ownership, and speed up the records process.

Translation by San Layy