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Burma’s parliamentary Farmland Investigation Commission has cited the overwhelming layers of bureaucracy – said to resemble archaic practices from the days of colonial rule – as the foremost cause for delays in returning confiscated land to its original owners.
Presenting a damning report before the legislative assembly in Naypyidaw on Monday, the Commission said its findings were based on the feedback of 11 teams sent across Burma to monitor the implementation of land return schemes.
Nan Say Awa, a Karen State MP and commission member who co-presented the report, slammed local government authorities for a lack of accountability and what he called “evidence of corruption”.
“It must be concluded that despite our leaders encouraging good clean governance, corruption and opportunism still prevails at a local authority level,” she told assembled lawmakers.
“Instead of swiftly and objectively executing land returns, local government bodies are still practicing a system of red tape that resembles the bureaucratic machine back in the colonial era,” she exclaimed. “This causes huge delays in implementing policy.”
Aung Thein Linn, a lower house MP and commission secretary, who is also a former mayor of Rangoon, said, “According to our findings, only 58 cases have been resolved so far. Based on the pace of development, it is obvious that the relevant authorities will not give up the land easily.”
He also pointed to issues relating to compensation for the landowners involved. He said the Commission found that compensation was only being paid after it had been approved from “higher up” – a system that involved multiple tiers, from local and regional levels, proceeding to the Housing Department which in turn referred each case to the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement for approval.
The report accused government departments and ministries of assigning junior officials who lack decision-making powers to land ownership and compensation claims. The Commission also criticised regional-level Land Management Committees for a lack of accountability.
According to a report at the union government’s first quarterly meeting this year, the Ministry of Defence took back over 201,000* acres of farmland across the country that had previously been confiscated under military junta rule. However the report noted that only 46,000 acres out of that figure had so far been returned to the farmers who previously owned it, the remainder still appeared to be in the hands of state and regional governments.
*In the original version of this article, we stated this was 210,000 acres. DVB apologises for the error.