Kyaw Zwa Moe: Welcome to Dateline Irrawaddy! This week, we’ll discuss the recent talk of the town, potholed roads, two chief ministers and General Aung San statues. Ko Khine Win, a director with the Sandhi Governance Institute and lawmaker Ko Nay Phone Latt of the Yangon Region Parliament, join me to discuss this. I’m The Irrawaddy editor Kyaw Zwa Moe.
There were media reports and criticism on social media about Yangon Region chief minister U Phyo Min Thein regarding the condition of the roads in Yangon. As Daw Aung San Suu Kyi went from Yangon to (her constituency) Kawhmu Township recently, she made a remark that roads in Yangon are in very bad condition and not even as good as those in (suburban) Kawhmu. The Yangon Region chief minister then immediately summoned a meeting to improve the roads. People are criticizing that the chief minister only took action after Daw Aung San Suu Kyi complained. What do you have to say about this?
Nay Phone Latt: Usually, roads are in very bad condition in the rainy season. Conditions are worse this year. [The chief minister] should have known it even if Daw Aung San Suu Kyi did not mention it. And our regional Parliament has continuously complained about [poor] road conditions in Yangon, as well as that it causes difficulties with the drainage system. It is unacceptable that he has only summoned a meeting to address this after Daw Aung San Suu Kyi complained. The regional Parliament discussed this long before that. Proposals regarding this were submitted to the regional Parliament, and some were approved.
If a proposal is approved by the legislature, the things mentioned in that proposal should become the policy [of the government]. A meeting should be held once a proposal is approved by Parliament and not only after it is complained about by a [state] leader. A proposal approved by Parliament represents the wishes of the people. So, a meeting must be held [by the government] once a proposal is approved by Parliament. And the meeting must find ways to implement it. This is the way it should happen. But in reality, [the chief minister] did it only after the State Counselor complained. And this is not the first time. There are previous examples. It is not good for us. It seems that we have to invite Aunty [Daw Aung San Suu Kyi] to Yangon frequently.
And I think there is a need to organize talks between Aunty and residents in Yangon like previous [peace] talks between her and local residents in places where she made ministers respond to locals’ questions. Personally, I want to see such talks. Only then will leaders understand the real situation in Yangon. I think [the government] should pay heed to discussions in Parliament and not just instructions from leaders.
KZM: Regarding good governance, a good government should listen to the voices of the people and fulfill their needs. In the case of the fire at Htein Pin dump site, [the Yangon government] responded hastily only after the State Counselor’s Office gave instructions. It held a meeting overnight. Why are some chief ministers, I don’t mean all, just some of them, not able to take initiative? What are their weaknesses in responding to the voices of the people? Is it because of a capacity problem or something else? What is your view, Ko Nay Phone Latt?
NPL: In my opinion, the [Yangon] chief minister is only thinking of macro-level solutions. In his efforts to reduce traffic woes and improve road conditions, he only thinks of big solutions at the macro-level such as building elevated expressways, establishing new towns and broadening roads. He is only trying to do such things, but very weak in cooperating with people wherever possible at the micro-level. So, some criticize him as a big mouth, saying that he can only talk the talk. He could improve the traffic control system and make sure people follow traffic rules, for example in crossing roads. He could also instruct the [Yangon] mayor to repair the roads on a regular basis, if it is not possible to upgrade those roads. The mayor should inspect the roads, especially in the rainy season.
KZM: He should have done that before [rainy season].
NPL: Yes, he should. I understand that the problem of urban flooding can’t be solved overnight. [The government] has borrowed loans, I think, from the World Bank to improve the city’s drainage system. But it seems that he doesn’t consider micro-level solutions that do not cost much and only looks at costly solutions.
KZM: That’s the point. He talked about doing big projects but potholes in downtown roads have yet to be filled. He once said that he would turn Yangon into a green and pleasant city. It has been nearly three years since he said that. Lawmakers play a critical role in making the people’s voices heard [by the government]. Ko Nay Phone Latt, what are the frictions between the Yangon regional government and Parliament? We’ve noticed there have been frequent tensions between the two that go beyond the limits of checks and balances. So, what are the problems?
NPL: Mainly, the two branches need to understand the responsibilities of each other. And they should respect those responsibilities. Only we lawmakers listen to the voices of people, live among people, and talk at Parliament about their needs either in the form of questions or proposals. [The government] should treat those questions and proposals as the wishes of the people. We are not talking about our personal thoughts. So, they should treat what we say as the voice of the people. As I’ve mentioned earlier, implementation does not follow the approval of proposals. Most of the ministers who come and answer questions at Parliament – I don’t mean all – lack the energy to get things done. [When lawmakers ask a question or submit a proposal], the ministers ask their staff to do a report, and come and read that report at Parliament. There is no implementation. Some even said that it is easier “asked than implemented.” This is their attitude toward lawmakers and I think it is wrong. It is difficult to get things done with such an attitude. We ask questions and proposals with the goodwill to facilitate the functions of the administrative branch and assist the branch in fulfilling the needs of the people, and make it get closer to the people. The government should adjust its attitude toward Parliament, I think.
KZM: Ko Khine Win, your institute has been conducting training on good governance. Good governance incorporates clean government with responsibility, accountability, transparency and such. Recently, the chief minister of Yangon came under fire for accepting donations of 20 million kyats from a Malaysian Chinese gambler who is blacklisted in Malaysia, China and Singapore. It was an absurd thing to do. Is it concerned with his accountability or capacity?
Khine Win: I saw this on Facebook. People said that the chief minister accepted the donations without conducting a background check. It seems that the chief minister always wants to meet businessmen. Apparently, there are many things that he wants to do for Yangon and he met and accepted this donation perhaps with the hope that it might be somewhat beneficial for the city. But he posted the photo of himself accepting the donation on his Facebook page. He is transparent. But considering other things, people pointed out that he is weak in terms of accountability and transparency in his communication with Parliament. People say that [ministers’] answers and proposals to Parliament are factually incomplete and [ministers] have disregard for Parliament as Ko Nay Phone has complained. It is good if a government can perform well. But besides its performance, we also want to establish democratic governance. We want that consultation be made with all the stakeholders in the process democratically. [The Yangon chief minister] is weak in that regard.
KZM: There is no end in talking about this issue. But speaking of Karenni State, its chief minister said that he would call in troops to quell disturbances related to a plan to erect a General Aung San statue in the state’s capital. On Monday, the Tatmadaw [Myanmar Army] released a statement that the chief minister might have misinterpreted the  Constitution to say that, and that he has no authority to do so, as it can be only asked by the National Defense and Security Council. What is your assessment of this? There is another problem connected with a chief minister regarding the erection of a bronze statue of Gen Aung San. Ko Khine Win, it is fair to say you are the grandson of Gen Aung San. There are many people in Myanmar who love Gen Aung San. But the erection of his statues, is it a problem as there is opposition against it? What is your take on it?
KW: There is a need to take ethnic regions and peace into consideration regarding the erection of statues. Yes, it is true that many love Gen Aung San. Ethnicities also love him. So, the [government] may think that it can do [put up Gen Aung San statues] anywhere in the country. In other words, it may think that it has legitimacy, thinking that the majority love and support Gen Aung San and the number of people who oppose him is small. Chaungzon Bridge in Mon State is another example of this. While the present time is important for peace, [the government] shouldn’t exert the legitimacy, I think.
KZM: By legitimacy, you mean the legitimacy of the NLD, and what else?
KW: The legitimacy of NLD, the legitimacy of the government, and the legitimacy of people’s love for Gen Aung San. Because of this legitimacy, the government thinks that an elephant can make its way through wherever it goes. In my view, loving Gen Aung San from the heart and following in his footsteps is more important than erecting his statues. This is also important for peace. Supporters of the statue in ethnic regions should reconsider, I think.
KZM: The NLD said that it is not its policy [to erect Gen Aung San statues]. The plan was initiated by supporters of Gen Aung San and the NLD, including NLD members and outsiders. They are trying to put up the statue. But then they met resistance. In the case of the bridge in Chaungzon, as it was named after Gen Aung San, it created intense controversy. Though the NLD leadership does not instruct people to do so, I think they have the responsibility to intervene if resistance stiffens. What do you think, Ko Nay Phone Latt?
NPL: It is civil society organizations as well as NLD chapters of concerned townships that are erecting the statues. I’m sure the [NLD] central executive committee has no policy regarding the erection of the statues. But then, when resistance arises as you’ve said, [NLD leadership] should say something. Now, statues are being erected against the will of local people. And some statues look disgraceful, I think. Some Gen Aung San statues were cast awkwardly, and this only creates disrespect. We have seen such statues on the social media. They do exist in the real world. This is not loving or honoring the general. Sometimes it [erecting a Gen Aung San statue] just serves against the wishes of the general. So, I think [the NLD leadership] should exert control to a certain extent. As Ko Khine Win said, it is more important to follow Gen Aung San’s steps than erect his statues. Another thing is what he cherishes. What is certain is that he greatly valued democracy and a federal Union that guarantees equality and non-discrimination for the ethnicities. These are the two things he greatly valued. We should value these two things. We should not destroy what Gen Aung San valued for a statue. But it seems that it is being destroyed. I also feel the same regarding Chaungzon. It is like destroying a federal Union and national reconciliation to give the name [after Gen Aung San].
KZM: The essence of federalism and national reconciliation….
NPL: Yes, it [erecting a Gen Aung San statue against the will of locals] destroys the values and essence the general cherished. I think Gen Aung San would not accept it if he were still alive. I support erecting Gen Aung San statues. But there is a need to reconsider if they should be put up without the consent of locals and local ethnic people.
KZM: I think it is more important to love him from the heart and accept his policies than erect his statues. The [NLD] leadership should intervene. Otherwise,….. we have heard that somebody defaced the Gen Aung San statue in Myitkyina [in Kachin] with paint. We don’t know who painted it. But anyway, we had never heard of such a case before. There is such a response because they don’t like it.
KW: Rather than erect statues, a detailed and correct biography of him should be written. His elder brother has written his biography. In fact, the government or people who love the general should make careful research and compile a detailed biography. It will be more valuable than erecting statues.
KZM: It is much cheaper. A bronze statue reportedly costs around 80 million kyats.
KW: It would be of more value to conduct in-depth research into his life and his principles and gather separate facts together so that everyone including students could read the detailed biography.
KZM: Some of our people by nature tend to be dogmatic with their opinions. Thank you for your frank comments.