Guest commentary by Robert Oberndorf, Resource Law Specialist, Tenure and Global Climate Change Project.
Since December of 2013, USAID’s Tenure and Global Climate Change Program has been providing technical assistance to the Government of Burma to develop a draft National Land Use Policy. The policy is intended to address many of the difficulties faced in reforming the governance frameworks related to democratic resource administration and strengthening land tenure security in the country. The policy is also intended to guide the development of a comprehensive umbrella land law for the country, which will help to address some of the challenging legal harmonization issues confronting the country. While improving land use administration and governance in Burma is a complex endeavor, there are promising signs that progress is being made. The development of the draft policy is one such sign.
The Government of Burma has been developing the draft policy using a multi-stakeholder consultation process that began in 2012 with the National Dialogue on Land Tenure and Land Use Rights. The findings from this event fed directly into the draft policy. In addition, advice from non-government technical experts (national and international); extensive research on various land use issues in Burma from academic institutions, donors, INGOs and CSOs; information from media reports; and findings from various Parliamentary commissions on land use issues have fed into the development of the draft National Land Use Policy.
The draft policy, while attempting to balance the interests of multiple stakeholders, emphasizes strengthening the land tenure security of smallholder farmers, ethnic communities, women, and other vulnerable groups in Burma. The policy also includes important provisions on
- ensuring the use of effective environmental and social safeguard mechanisms,
- improving public participation in decision-making processes related to land use planning,
- improving public access to accurate information related to land use management, and
- developing independent dispute resolution mechanisms.
The draft policy also includes guidance aimed at strengthening the government’s mechanisms for handling land acquisition, compensation, relocation, and restitution.
Considering the fact that Burma has never had a land use policy before, the development of this draft policy is unprecedented on many levels. For example, the Government of Burma has opened the draft policy to a process of public comment and consultation. On October 18, 2014, the Government of Burma held a multi-stakeholder meeting in Yangon to publicly release the draft National Land Use Policy and officially begin a process of nationwide public consultations. The government provided a dedicated e-mail address to send comments. A process for conducting public consultations in every region and state of the country during the month of November was also announced. Once all comments are submitted, they will be assessed for relevance, categorized, and incorporated into the policy through an approach that attempts to balance the views of various stakeholders. A final national workshop will be held to present the revised version of the draft policy prior to final consideration by the Union Government and formal adoption.
To date, reaction to the draft policy has been mixed, with a major concern that the public consultation process does not provide enough time for civil society organizations and the public to fully review and meaningfully comment on the draft. In response to this, the Government initially moved the schedule for the public consultations back one week. It is not clear whether the schedule for consultations might be adjusted further to address the concerns raised by various civil society organizations in the country.
While the public comment and consultation process led by the Government of Burma may be less than perfect, it is nonetheless a watershed moment for Burma that presents a unique opportunity for all stakeholders to make recommendations on an area of policy that directly impacts such a large portion of society in Burma.
Learn more about land tenure and property rights issues in Burma.