Burma President’s Order Allowing Small Gifts Met With Derision

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 19 March 2014

RANGOON — Burma President Thein Sein has reportedly told government officials that they can accept gifts worth up to 300,000 kyat, about US$300, without it being considered corruption.

Thein Sein’s reforming government has recently passed an Anticorruption Law and established a new anti-graft commission as it attempts to shed the country’s highly corrupt international image.

Last week, President’s Office Spokesman Ye Htut reportedly told local media that an order had gone round warning officials that accepting gifts could be considered corruption. However, the order specified that only gifts valued over 300,000 kyat would be considered as corrupt payments, Ye Htut reportedly told the Kamayut news website.

An official in the Ministry of Transport, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, confirmed the details of the order to The Irrawaddy.

Reports of the order have been met with derision, and opposition politicians questioned the seriousness with which the government is taking its purported anticorruption drive.

Thu Wai, the chairman of the Democratic Party (Myanmar), said the order appeared to sanction corruption at a low level.

“If he really wants to prevent corruption, he should say there must be no bribes at all for government employees,” Thu Wai said. “I don’t understand why he said it like this. He should be clearer about it.”

Ye Htut reportedly justified the policy by saying allowing officials to accept small gifts was in line with international practice.

“I do not know about other countries’ policies, but as a president, he should say no bribes,” said Khin Maung Swe, chairman of the National Democratic Force party.

“Actually, 300,000 kyat is not much, but the president should order to his ministries not to take any bribes of cash or presents.”

As set out in last year’s Anticorruption Law, a new commission was last month established by Parliament to investigate corruption among government officials. The members of the commission were recommended by Thein Sein himself, however, and he was criticized at the time for picking a number of former military generals like himself, including for the role of the commission’s chair.