Burmese President Appoints New Religious Advisors

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 19 June 2014

RANGOON — Burmese President Thein Sein has created a new religious affairs advisory group—comprising two officials, including a family tie and a former religious affairs minister—following reports that the current religious affairs minister has been detained and is being investigated for corruption.

State media announced on Thursday that former Religious Affairs Minister Myint Maung will lead the president’s new religious affairs advisory group. Myint Maung, a brigadier general under the former military junta, retired from his ministerial post last year, after facing blame for failing to adequately assist monks who were injured in a police crackdown on protesters at Letpadaung copper mine in 2012.

A former ambassador, Sein Win Aung, the father-in-law of Thein Sein’s daughter, has been appointed as a second religious affairs advisor, state media reported.

The appointments came as Eleven Media reported on Thursday that the current religious affairs minister, Hsan Sint, has been detained and is being investigated for corruption. The report could not be independently verified by The Irrawaddy.

The government is also facing international and local opposition to two religious bills that would restrict religious conversions and interfaith marriages. In Rangoon, tensions are high after the state-backed Buddhist clergy recently evicted monks from a large Rangoon monastery.

Also on Thursday, state media announced that the president has selected four other new advisors for health, education and economic affairs, who will join a team of about 40 current presidential advisors.

Former Unicef senior staff member Yin Yin Nwe will join the education advisory group. Following two decades of experience with Unicef, she has recently served as an advisor to the government-affiliated Myanmar Peace Center (MPC), as well as a member of the National Economic and Social Advisory Council, and a member of the Education Promotion Implementation Committee (EPIC), which is promoting education reform under the Ministry of Education.

“I have told the President’s Office how the education sector has been wrecked,” she told The Irrawaddy. “During the military government era, many educated experts left the country, and there were Western sanctions, so various sectors in Burma were ruined. Now the president needs to develop all sectors with advice from experts. Not only one, but many experts are welcomed.”

Another education advisor will be Kyaw Yin Hlaing, also a member of the MPC.

Dr. Nu Nu Thar, a former superintendent of Rangoon General Hospital, will join the president’s health advisory group.

She is the sister of Soe Tha, the former minister of national planning. Tin Htut Oo, a former director-general of the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, rounds out the six new advisors as he joins the economic advisory group.

“The president seems to know there are weaknesses in these sectors which need to be upgraded,” said Yan Myo Thein, a political analyst. “He appointed the former religious affairs minister as a team leader [of the religious affairs advisory group], so I think there might be a lot of weaknesses and needs in the Religious Affairs Ministry.”

Yan Myo Thein added that the appointment of many advisors was no guarantee of action.

“I don’t expect much from them,” he said.

This story has been amended to omit an assertion that presidential advisers are paid with taxpayer money for their services. These advisers are not paid state salaries, but may receive an allowance for expenses incurred in the course of their work.