Minister urges return of unused state land
SIX thousand people were handed control of nearly 5 million acres of land by the previous government, industrialists heard at a meeting with senior government officials and business leaders. And now it’s time for the government to take some of that land back, according to the Union minister for planning and finance.
At the October 22 Myanmar Entrepreneurship Summit in Nay Pyi Taw, Planning Minister U Kyaw Win said the former government had handed over nearly 4.8 million acres (1.92 million hectares) to about 6000 beneficiaries, supposedly for development purposes. In fact, much of the land remained unused, and has become the focus of disputes that have festered to this day.
Questioning how much value was being produced on the give-away land, U Kyaw Win said, “If state-owned possessions are to benefit the whole country, a single acre can be as profitable as a 10-acre plot.” The land in question was categorised as vacant, virgin or fallow.
“We should learn from past experience when rights are given to entrepreneurs, correct the faults and move forward,” he said.
Entrepreneur U Myat Thin Aung urged the government to claw back land that was not being put to productive use.
“This land should be confiscated from people who have failed to use it for business, and given to others. If 2000 acres was given away and only 200 of that is being used productively, the rest of the land should be given back,” he said, adding that the country’s development would slow unless its assets were used more productively.
Land disputes have long plagued the government, proving a seemingly intractable problem involving archaic laws, a lack of organised ownership documents and, in many cases, military interests. Thousands of cases of land grabs have been reported to the various government committees set up to resolve them, with most involving local famers. The contested ownership and inherent legal complications stand as an enormous barrier to foreign investors not wanting to become entangled in such dubious fights.
The entrepreneurs at the October 22 meeting told State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi that high land prices were deterring foreign investment, and that disputes were rife between local residents and companies that had taken over the land.
The planning and finance minister also divulged heavy losses sustained by state-owned enterprises over the past five years, including more than K154 billion (US$120 million) lost by the three sections of the Ministry of Industry. The period is equivalent to the term of office of the previous government. Minister U Kyaw Win said the Ministry of Industry No 1 had lost total K40,067 million, the Ministry of Industry No 2 K13,155 million and the Ministry of Industry No 3 K101,100 million. It was necessary to review these operations, he said.
– Translation by San Layy