Friday, March 11, 2011

Semi Democracy Burmese Style (4)

(This episode details the Question Time in the People Parliament.)

The sixth day of first Pyithu Hluttaw (Lower House) was devoted for the question and answer session. The session began at 10 in the morning and ended at 20 minutes past 12 in the afternoon.

The first question was asked by Aung Htun Tha from Arakan State Myauk-U Constituency. He asked if the Government has any plan to list the ancient site in Myauk-U as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Minister for Culture Khin Aung Myint replied that the ancient Pyu city sites of Thayekhittaya, Beikthanoe, and Hanlin were already in the process of listing through World Heritage Committee in 2010. Other ancient sites will be submitted to the UNESCO one by one every year according to their order in the historical time frame and so Myauk-U’s turn is coming soon.

Unjust Appropriation of Farmland

The second question was asked by Aung Zin from Rangoon Division Pazundaung Constituency. He stated that for many centuries Burma had had various forms of traditional ownership of farmland but in 1963 the basic Socialist principle of the State Ownership of all agriculture land was laid down (by Ne Win’s military Government).

Based on that principle the Agricultural Tenancy Act (1963) was established to guarantee only the tenancy rights (not the ownerships) of traditional farmers on the land they’ve been working for generations. Also the Protection of Farmers’ rights Act (1963) was added to strengthen the existing tenancy rights of traditional farmers so that they can transfer their tenancies to next generation within the immediate family as inheritance.

He then stated that for decades both laws have protected millions of farmers but the current government actions of forcefully appropriating the farmlands without adequate compensations for the purposes of building industrial complexes and/or establishing large scale agricultural plantations have been forcing many farmers out of their traditional lands and become landless farmers.

He then asked the Parliament if the Government has any plan to solve that worsening problem faced by the countless number of farmers.

I do not know which party he is from but whoever Aung Zin is he surely is one brave soul in the dictatorial Burma for he dared to ask that particular question concerning the poor farmers being robbed off their farms from right underneath their feet by the unscrupulous crony businessmen like Tay Za et al and the powerful Chinese agricultural conglomerates with the blessing of local warlords from the regional army commands.

This was what ex-Major-General Htay Oo the Minister for Agriculture and Irrigation replied as an elaborate but rather slippery answer to Aung Zin’s question.

He first stated that the Chapter 38 Section 1 of the Agricultural Land Nationalizing Act (1953) authorized the President to apply or ask to apply specific crops or specific means to use on agriculture land in particular region if it may be beneficial to the State or to the Agriculturalists by growing some specific crops in some areas and by using specific means to agricultural lands.

The Minister also pointed out the Chapter 39 of the same law stating that the President or the Authority appointed by the President for that particular matter can summon any agricultural land to use specific means or method despite of other provisions mentioned however in the Act.

What he basically telling the Parliament is that according to the Chapter 39 of the Agricultural Land Nationalizing Act (1953) the President or his agents could do whatever they want with the farmland as long as their action is beneficial to the state and/or the people.

He also stated the fact that The Tenancy Act (1963) was prescribed by the Revolutionary Council Government firstly to stop the collection of rent from the tenant farmers by the landlords and secondly to announce that only the Government can rent out the land to the working farmers.

By that law the Government is guaranteeing the working famers their rights to work on the particular land and their transferring rights of tenancy among the immediate family. The law also basically prohibits collecting of rents on any farmland.

The Minister particularly emphasized the fact that the Chapter 3 Section 1 of The Farmers’ Rights Protection Act (1963) prohibits the legal appropriation of any farmland, farm implements, and farm produce by the order or decree of a court. And at present, he said, the Government is following these laws to the letter and no crop-producing farm land is appropriated.

However, he continued reluctantly, there are some cases where the local authorities have to appropriate minimal land required for the industrial and agricultural projects beneficial to the State as allowed by the Chapter 39 of 1953 Land Nationalizing Act.

So the powerful Minister for Agriculture and Irrigation openly admitted in the semi-democratic Parliament that his government has one law (promulgated by Ne Win’s Military Government in 1963) to protect the farmlands from any appropriation but at the same time they are using another law (conveniently passed by U Nu democratic Parliament in 1953) to take away that protection and do whatever they like with the unjustly appropriated land such as giving it away free to the Chinese or Tay Za’s Htoo Trading.

Ownership of Agricultural Lands  

The third question was asked by Ye Htun (a) Min Htun from Shan State Thibaw Constituency. He stated that some big companies (with the help of local authorities) have been appropriating the farmlands without paying adequate compensation and thus causing serious grief to the farmers losing their farms.

He then added that for the growing of crops most farmers have to borrow money heavily from the private lenders charging very high interest rates since the current laws give farmers only the working rights on their lands not the ownerships of their agriculture lands.  He stated that in a way the current laws prohibit the mortgaging, selling, and transferring of any farm land.

So he asked if the Government has any plan to solve these problems by passing a law guaranteeing the ownership of farmland in near future.

In replying that question same Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation reiterated his previous explanation of that three laws, The Agricultural Land Nationalizing Act (1953) and The Tenancy Act (1963) and The Farmers’ Rights Protection Act (1963), in details.

He then let the Parliament know that the Government-owned Myanmar Agricultural Development Bank has been lending money cheaply to the farmers every year. The relevant ministries have even been giving the advance payments to the farmers for their produce if they agree to grow some particular crops.

He was also quick to point out the fact that many farmers borrow money from the private lenders for purposes other than for the cultivation of their crops. He also warned that if the laws let the farmers to own their lands and thus allowing the farmers transfer, mortgage, and sell the land they own they will eventually lose their lands to the minority moneyed-class as it had happened in the past.

So the powerful Minister for Agriculture and Irrigation patronizingly told the semi-democratic Parliament that his government will never pass a law that takes away the ownership of productive farmlands from the Government and gives it back to the farmers.

Internet Access

This statistic of Internet usage is from the lengthy reply of Communication and Postal Services Minister ex-Major-General Thein Zaw to the question asked by San Htun from Kachin State No. 11 Constituency.

In the whole nation of Burma there were only four internet users in 1998. Ten years later in March 2008 there were 78,010 internet users, in March 2009 93,585 users, and in March 2010 there were 351,390 internet users. The forecast for March 2011 is 380,000 users of internet in Burma.

So far my blog has attracted massive 13 internet users from Burma and almost all were from the Naypyidaw. Maybe they are the young officers from the Cyber Warfare Unit of Burmese Army. Come on Boys, give me a break, I was once a bloody boy solider in the same bloody army!

Semi Democracy Burmese Style (3)