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Will Burma’s anti-corruption stance work?

Burma or Myanmar has a big trouble with corruption, which is deeply rooted among its bureaucrats and military elites. It seems to be intertwined with abuses of power and violations of term of office committed by the previous and current authorities.

In keeping with a message dated 20 February to the Parliament sent by President U Thein Sein, a commission is going to be formed to make a start on corruption in the country. The President sent his list of nominees for the committee to the Union Parliament (combined Houses) on 20 February, the Myanma Freedom Daily said.

In a letter to the Chairman of the Union Parliament, U Thein Sein has suggested 15-member body comprising five selected by the president, five by the Lower House and five by the Upper House.

As reported by the Eleven Media, the selected members are mostly former high-ranking government officials i.e. Mya Win (ex-serviceman), Tin Oo (former ambassador), Kyaw Kyaw (ex-director general from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Soe Tint (former director of the Audit Office), Than Aung (former director of the Attorney General’s Office), Maung Shein (ex-serviceman), Dr Teik San (ex-professor from the Military Academy of Technology), Nay Win (former ambassador), Myat Myat Soe (former director-general from the Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development), Thin Maung (former director from the Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development), Swun Doke Kyink (former deputy director of the Attorney General’s Office), Nyi Nyi Tun (from  the Ministry of Fisheries and Rural Development), Kyaw Myint (ex-serviceman), Than Than Ye (former director from the Audit Office), and Aung Hlaing Soe (former director from the Audit Office).

“The Commission must be independent and not under the influence of Three Estates. However, the Commission may have difficulty in taking actions against bribery and corruption because of the old members of former government. Since the Commission members are appointed by the president and the two Houses, they may have influence on them. It is important that the Commission is impartial,” Pyithu Hluttaw (Lower House) MP U Ye Tun (Hsipaw) told the Myanma Freedom Daily.

The media also said that ex-Maj-Gen Mya Win was suggested as Chairman of the commission and former ambassador U Tin Oo along with the planned members as the commission's secretary. The scheduled members were almost completely involved in former military regime’s service.

The remaining question is still there. Will the ex-regime’s partisans change their mindset? The operation against the corruption this time should not be a window-dressing show.

As mentioned by the newly passed Anti-Corruption Law, the commission must be a self-regulating association of appreciated personnel, disconnect from the legislative, administrative and judicial area offices of the government. The members must be not engaged in state-run businesses, boards, corporations and local administrative bodies, according to the law. And the law also rules out those who were stated as bankrupt persons or known as corrupt ones.

Just one year away, the Office of the President of Myanmar (Burma) announced on 8 Jan 2013 the formation of a nine-member anti-corruption committee under the chairmanship of Vice President Dr. Sai Mauk Kham.

“As part of efforts for the emergence of good governance and clean government after the new government took office, an action committee against corruption is formed to fight the corruption and bribery in governmental organizations,” according to President Office’s  Notification No. 9/2013 dated 8 January, 2013. It did not mention details on the responsibilities and rights of the nine-member committee.

However, after a year passed by, the said nine-member anti-corruption committee led by Vice President Dr. Sai Mauk Kham did not release any findings or activities by the body. And there may be perplexity in public that in the presence of the nine-member anti-corruption committee, what will be the mission of the new 15-member committee in particular. The matter should be made clear towards common citizens.

U Thein Sein has implemented political and economic reforms in the previously military-ruled country since he took office in 2011. Since then he has often called for an end to bribery and corruption.

In December 2012, he made a speech to the nation that the third phase of his reform agenda would focus on elimination of corruption, especially among government officials. Even though the President announced the member-list of the Action Committee against Corruption, there were no particulars of specific penalties for corrupt bureaucrats as well as respective executive personnel.

Anti-Corruption Law was approved in July 2013, but since that time no action has been taken, Supreme court lawyer Robert San Aung told the DVB.

“A law is in place, there should be direct action,” he said. “The commission will take some time, and corruptions will continue. Because the authorities and cronies are now above the law, I would like to see practical changes rather than the forming of a commission.”

According to the current law, corruption carries a maximum 15 year sentence for politicians. Other authorities can serve up to 10 years for a guilty verdict, as well as losing their positions. Others found guilty can serve up to seven years in jail, DVB said.

It was also good to see the Government’s statement, dated 30 November 2012, if it will take place truly in favor of clean government that serves the citizens’ social security.

It says: “Public participation is essential in eliminating bribery and corruption in ensuring good governance and clean government. It is learnt that the culture of demanding of bribes in the form of cash or gifts as grease money still persists in government departments and private enterprises as well as in interaction between government staff and departments.”

The statement also highlights corruption as an unacceptable and unpardonable misconduct in building a democratic country and affects the dignity of the nation and its people. The statement also encourages the citizens to complain frankly about bribery cases to respective departments.

Yet, the citizens still dare not informing a bribery case to respective authorities since the anti-corruption law and the law enforcement officers fail to provide necessary backing honestly.

In contrast, Global corruption watchdog ‘Transparency International’ published its 2013 Index in last December. In which, Burma (Myanmar) is ranked 157th out of 177 countries, just ahead of Cambodia, Afghanistan and North Korea in the Asia-Pacific region.

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