Decades of citizen petitions and complaints were finally answered by government investigators who have uncovered a scheme by which officials in the Mekong Delta stole land from poor tree farmers.
Central government inspectors based in Ca Mau confirmed the substance of the complaints filed by 74 families against the state-owned Song Trem Farm Forestry (also known as the U Minh Ha Company) for over a decade.
The company was accused of seizing subsidized farm land and giving it to officials who then rented it out at a profit.
The land was give to the poor families as part of a poverty alleviation and forest protection program designed to offer locals land for commercial tree cultivation--on the condition that they keep the land constantly covered.
Land in Vietnam is owned by the government and people are granted land use rights for certain periods of time.
Ca Mau residents and the company signed a 20-year contract that went into effect in 1991, allotting each family around nine hectares.
Investigators say the company illegally altered the agreement and seized half of their land between 1995-1996.
Scores of local officials received allotments that far exceeded the program’s maximum of 10 hectares per family.
For example, Pham Minh Hong, former head of Thoi Binh District Agriculture Department, and his family received 42 hectares.
Nguyen Van Quang, whose land was "redistributed" to Hong, told Tuoi Tre newspaper that the official never took care of the land and only waited for trees to grow so he could chop them down and sell them.
“Hong has not replanted the land for three years. Normal people like me are punished and questioned from time to time when we do that,” Quang said.
Le Van Khoi, another local, said that after a portion of his allotment was seized, he lacked enough land for proper cultivation.
“We're poor and lack enough land to work on; we regularly go to bed hungry and our children have to work trivial jobs to make extra money, the officials who got the land have not bothered to work the land themselves,” Tuoi Tre quoted Khoi as saying. “They have rented out the land for money and don't care about protecting the forest from fires and such.”
Tran Cong Loc, former chief prosecutor of Ca Mau, received 50 hectares of land from the scheme.
The land use contract with Loc expired in 2011 but the company continues to allow him to use it.
Nguyen Huu Phuoc, deputy director of U Minh Ha Company, gave himself 35.9 hectares of land.
Nguyen Ngoc Tuan, former director of the company, took 51 hectares while Tran Minh Chanh and Pham Hoang Tho, two company officials, took 67 and 28 hectares, respectively.
The inspectors have asked the provincial government to censure the individuals involved based on the degree of their involvement.