Kyaw Zwa Moe: Welcome to Dateline Irrawaddy! President U Win Myint recently met with executive, legislative and judicial branches. The president told the officials of those branches not to make trouble for people but to help them. He also asked the ministers not to answer vaguely in Parliament. Why did he intervene after the case of the alleged murder of comedian Aung Yell Htwe was dropped? How can the corrupt judicial system be rectified? Yangon Region lawmaker U Than Naing Oo and lawyer U Htay join me to discuss this. I’m Kyaw Zwa Moe.
Ko Than Naing Oo. President U Win Myint came to Yangon and met executive, legislative and judicial officials for two-and-a-half hours. Many people applauded what he said in the meeting. He spoke about the New (Yangon) City project and also called for judicial impartiality. What stood out to you in his two-and-a-half-hour-long meeting?
Than Naing Oo: The president said the union government was making reforms. Reforms should be made in line with global trends, and people in our country are not aware of that, he said. He gave practical guidelines to executive, legislative and judicial branches despite the limited time. Regarding the judicial branch, he called for swift and fair trials, especially for civil cases. There are many civil cases in Yangon Region. He called for swift trials in those cases. He also called for imposing fitting penalties in cases related to children. The president said that, when he worked as a lawyer, he had never heard of certain cases throughout his legal career, such as citizens dropping lawsuits in murder cases. He said that even when murders are committed by civilians they are a concern of the government, and that such cases indicate that the judicial system is paralyzed.
He also said that the lawmakers should thoroughly understand their powers and responsibilities. He also asked the ministers to adequately answer questions asked by lawmakers in Parliament. The president also called for people to be given good public services. The government should not indulge in taxes and emoluments from the people but is obliged to provide good public services. What he said should be heeded. He asked the officials in the three branches to ask themselves whether they are helping or hindering the people. He said, “If you are not good at helping people” — some people get a position but they have no ability — “then try not to be the one who hinders the people.” This is a very good point. He urged them to always consider the interests of the people whatever they do. The president admitted that some civil servants cannot lead a decent living and that the government can only fulfill some of their requirements. He warned them to avoid causing permanent harm (to people) due to their greed for short-term gains.
KZM: The president spoke about injustices in the judicial sector. He seemed to specifically refer to the murder of comedian Aung Yell Htwe. The day after the meeting, the president and the state counselor (Daw Aung San Suu Kyi) inquired about the case, as it had become the talk of the town on social media and among the public. It seemed that the president and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi heard about it and consequently intervened. U Htay, what is your view of the judicial reasoning in this case?
U Htay: The case of comedian Aung Yell Htwe aroused controversy across the country, including Yangon. The accused were released after the charge against them was allowed to be dropped. It has caused fierce controversy because the country is undergoing a transition, and especially because the National League for Democracy is in office. The home affairs minister is nominated by the commander-in-chief of defense services. The Home Affairs Ministry is headed by a military official. Military officials who have transferred from the military dominate the police force, including the police chief position. Because the police, who are responsible for ensuring the rule of law and public order, have weaknesses, they fail to bring crime under control. There are many murders, rapes and muggings in Yangon. They were reported in newspapers. The case of comedian Aung Yell Htwe is a high-profile case. He was killed in public in an act of revenge. Then the case was dropped suddenly and the accused were released. Meanwhile, the president came to meet officials from the three branches in Yangon, and what he said regarding the judicial sector has come under the spotlight. He called for judicial impartiality and it resulted in a re-investigation of Aung Yell Htwe’s case. We welcome this.
The case of Aung Yell Htwe was withdrawn according to Section 494 (d) of the Code of Criminal Procedure. According to the procedures, it has to be withdrawn by the public prosecutor with the consent of the court. The law doesn’t specify which type of charge can be withdrawn. According to the precedents, the court has to make remarks on the dossier, that is, to give reasons for the withdrawal. The court can’t allow the withdrawal just because the public prosecutor asks it to do so. It has given no reason for the withdrawal to the media. So this has aroused controversy in the public as well as in the judicial world.
KZM: The president asked the ministers not to answer questions perfunctorily, but to respond to questions with real interest in Parliament. He also spoke about the (New Yangon City) project. The new town project, initiated by Yangon Region Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein, has drawn widespread criticism. People ask if it is necessary. The president implied that the project may proceed if it is necessary but should be aborted if it is not. He also asked him to improve the existing satellite towns. What did he mean by that? Is it a warning to the Yangon Region chief minister and his cabinet?
TNO: The president advised that the project may proceed if it is necessary after careful review. But he asked if the existing towns were perfect, and if they have the fundamental characteristics of a town. It is not good if apartments are built among paddy fields and transportation is poor there. He said that if the new town is not properly built, it will be an extra burden for people amid the economic decline of the country.
So the Yangon Region government should pay proper attention to it. Speaking of projects, we’ve always said that we lawmakers should have sufficient time to carefully analyze the projects proposed to the regional parliament by the regional government. We have to make a study and consult with experts to identify the pros and cons. We have parliamentary committees in Yangon. They are small parliaments. While Parliament is not in session, these parliamentary committees meet with relevant experts and people from all walks of life to discuss relevant topics. We learn about the advantages and disadvantages for the development of Yangon from such meetings. We support the eyes and ears of the government. The government has to analyze our suggestions and make the decisions. If the government does like this more often, I hope it will be able to shape Yangon into its best form.
KZM: You said the president asked the ministers not to answer perfunctorily to questions from lawmakers in Parliament.
KZM: So are ministers just responding perfunctorily? How do they respond in Parliament?
TNO: Sometimes we feel frustrated after ministers answer questions. The answers do not match the questions. I don’t want to see such things anymore in the age of reform and transparency, because our government has come to power with the slogan “It is time for change.” We lawmakers point out (the faults of) our government for the sake of the country and the people. We have become lawmakers thanks to the vote of the people. They have become the government thanks to the vote of the people. We must owe our allegiance to the people only and no one else.
KZM: This is one of the faults (of the government). The president has complained and everyone knows that there is corruption everywhere, not just in the judicial branch. But corruption in the judicial sector negatively affects people from all walks of life when justice is obstructed. So the president has called for remedying the judicial branch. How bad is the situation? How can it be corrected?
U Htay: The judicial system has been paralyzed for a long time. The Tatmadaw (military) has ruled the country since it seized power on March 2, 1962. Their mindset is that they want to get water and don’t accept the complaint that the container is leaky. That mindset is entrenched. Ex-military officials who were transferred from the military have held positions in various departments as well as various levels of the courts and the attorney-general’s office. Their mindset is to get water and they do as they are told.
The 2008 Constitution must be amended. There is a problem with its description of the rule of law. The rule of law is described as the “prevalence of law and order” in Article 21 (c) and Article 354 of the English version of the 2008 Constitution. Globally, “rule of law” is a common term. Prevalence of law and order means ruling by law. That is wrong. So the essence comes from the Constitution, and it must be changed.
If you ask me how we can change that mindset, we should start with education in schools so that it can be gotten rid of among the younger generations. Another viable solutions we’ve suggested, as provided for in the Code of Criminal Procedure, is a jury system. I assume that there will be judicial impartiality if a jury system is implemented in Myanmar.
KZM: What else would you like to point out, since the judicial sector is riddled with problems just like other sectors?
U Htay: There is an answer in the speech of the president to reform the judicial branch. In his inaugural speech, President (U Win Myint) said the first priority of the government is ensuring the rule or law and improving the living standards of the people. The second is national reconciliation and peace. If what he said were put into practice, reforms would take place. But if national reconciliation is prioritized, both the rule of law and judicial impartiality will diminish. Because we won’t be able to make any reform if we are considerate to the military for the sake of civil-military relations. There will not be justice and truth then. Therefore, there is a need to work according to the list of priorities.
KZM: U Htay, Ko Than Naing Oo, thank you for your contributions!
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.