Customs Officials Defend ‘Rewards’

Zaw Lin, a senior official from Burma's Customs Department, speaks to reporters at a press conference in Rangoon on Jan. 26, 2013. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

Zaw Lin, a senior official from Burma’s Customs Department, speaks to reporters at a press conference in Rangoon on Jan. 26, 2013. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — Officials from Burma’s Customs Department held a press conference in Rangoon on Saturday to respond to local media reports that the department routinely misuses money collected through the imposition of fines and other penalties.

Zaw Lin, a senior customs official, denied the accusation, saying that 100 percent of the money the department receives through fines and the sale of confiscated goods goes to the Ministry of Finance and Revenue.

He acknowledged, however, that officials later get a 10 percent share of the total amount as an “incentive” for effectively enforcing customs regulations.

“If you ask me whether civil servants have a right to benefit in this way from enforcing the law, I would say no. But we use this money to reward those—including police and officials from other departments—who cooperate with us in cracking down on illegal activities,” said Zaw Lin.

The press conference was held following a recent report by the Biweekly Eleven, a Rangoon-based journal, that accused customs officials of abusing their powers for personal profit. The journal had also threatened to send a letter to Vice-President Sai Mauk Kham, who heads a government commission on corruption, detailing alleged offenses.

Zaw Lin said that even though customs officials receive a cut of the money they take from those who break import and export laws, this does not mean that they are guilty of corruption.

“We want to be good civil servants and we are trying to keep our department clean,” he said, adding that in the past year, the Customs Department has dismissed two customs officials and demoted 33 others on charges of corruption.

Asked if it was true that customs officials received 700 million kyat (US $810,000) last year through its unofficial reward system, Zaw Lin simply said that the amount was actually very small once it was distributed to officials of all levels throughout the department.

His own share, he said, was just 200,000 kyat ($230).

In addition to addressing the issue of corruption, the officials also discussed other customs-related matters at the press conference, including the new process for importing cars.

6 Responses to Customs Officials Defend ‘Rewards’

  1. Bama custom has been corrupted since U nu’s government until now. Official listing the all cases and all money involved on weekly basic is one of best solutions to fight the corruption.

    • A cultural sea change can only come about if an honest person can start earning a reasonable wage. All govt servants have tried to make a living by holding down two jobs, one official and some major moonlighting, for the entire military era. Those in office of some kind that can provide access to some manner of goods and services have used their position to earn extra in order to support the life style they have become accustomed to. Not surprisingly the police, customs and immigration, the justice system are riddled with corruption. Cleaning up the Aegean stables might be easier.

  2. Stealing or laundering state fund in the form of reward or gift is a crime. In the past, that kind of corruption had destroyed the society. When cronies handed car keys and keys of luxurious houses to Thandar Shwe as wedding gifts, it was already revealing how corrupt Burmese generals. Recognition must not be done illegally. It is not recognition but laundering state fund. These officials must be charged with criminal acts.

  3. Does anybody reading this article, including the author, believe anything that Zaw Lin said in the news conference?

    The people are not that stupid, stop treating them as if they are.

  4. When are we going to reform these custom laws which has been around since the socialist government? The county cannot grow without the major overhaul of these outdated policies and import price list. I can’t even send my own personal stuff to my own home country; Myanmar, without a “permit” is ridiculous.

  5. This is how corruption becomes accepted and entrenched in a political/government Bureaucracy. People have been doing it for years and it becomes accepted. A clean broom is needed. Government workers need their wages adjusted to reflect their responsibilities (better wages for the workers/officials). The Government now needs to bring in reforms and accountability processes to ensure graft is reduced and no longer accepted as a way to try and make up for the shortfall in wages. It will take may years to do, but needs to start now. There are many countries from around the world that would be more than willing to assist Burma in this endeavour. A fresh start will give the people fresh hope and a new way of trusting the government and government employees.

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