As The Irrawaddy is celebrating its silver jubilee, we revisit some of our magazine stories published over 25 years. Here is a one on a general turned restaurateur from July 2013.
BEE LIN, Mon State — Former Gen Lun Maung wants nothing more than to let bygones be bygones, taking what he knows to the grave.
Wearing a olive green vest and longyi the man cleaning tables at a roadside diner in southern Burma seems a world away from his life over the past 40 years. He told The Irrawaddy of his dramatic and unexpected fall from grace.
“I don’t want to talk about it because it’s not good for anyone concerned,” he said, referring to the main reason he was forced to leave one of Burma’s most powerful jobs last year.
At the height of his power under the former military regime, Lun Maung was the military inspector general and the regime’s national auditor general. In 2011, when current President Thein Sein came to power, he was reappointed auditor general.
But just one year later he found himself watching the television in shock, as it was announced he had been “allowed to take a rest from his duties,” which is a common official euphemism for getting fired. “It caught me by surprise on the TV news,” Lun Maung recalled.
Far from the halls of power, the former general now serves customers at the restaurant he owns in Bee Lin, a provincial town in southern Burma’s Mon State.
Many with knowledge of the matter believe he was let go because he made detailed records of corrupt officials siphoning off money from government departments, which he was to submit in his annual audit.
But he allegedly submitted an informal audit directly to Lower House Speaker Shwe Mann, a report that is meant to be sent directly to the President. The report found massive corruption in six ministries to the dismay of Thein Sein, and the report was leaked to the media.
“Despite all of my hard work, the way I did it could have had a negative impact on the country,” he told The Irrawaddy. “Even though what I did was right, it turned out to be wrong.”
Lun Maung came from a poor ethnic Shan family, growing up not speaking Burmese. His parents, he says, beat him as a child when they discovered he was taking Burmese language lessons at school, fearing he would lose his native tongue.
In the 1960s he applied to officer training at Burma’s Defense Services Academy at the same time as future President Tin Aung Myint Oo. Shwe Mann was a year above Lun Maung at the academy and Htay Oo, current vice president of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, signed up two years later.
After their time together at the academy, Lun Maung found he had different ideas from Shwe Mann and Htay Oo, who also went on to positions of leadership in the ruling junta. “I am not in the habit of socializing with someone who is not my type,” he said.
After leaving the auditor general’s office, he returned with an empty wallet to be with his wife, who runs the Aung Pyae Sone restaurant in Bee Lin. He is an anomaly among retired generals in Burma, many of whom leave office with lucrative business interests and amassed wealth gained often in less than ethical ways.
As former chief government auditor, he says he knows who has misused government funds, and he dislikes the abuse of power for personal gain. “It’s pointless to talk about it,” he said, referring to naming corrupt officials. “I don’t want to harm anyone involved.”
Meanwhile, he seems content among the dishes and diners at this modest restaurant in Mon State, occasionally barking orders at the staff in-between waiting tables and working the cash register. Waking early, he works until midnight, always wearing a worn-out olive green vest — sign, perhaps, that he is not ready to forget the past completely.
“I have work throughout the day. When I was a general, I had time to play golf,” Lun Maung jokes. “Now I can’t imagine having spare time for pleasure”
“But the life I’m living now is quite simple.”
Mya Mya Sein, Lun Maung’s wife, chimes in: “We are happy now with what we have. We can forgive anyone for what they have done to us. We regard it as retribution for bad things we did in the past.”
Business looks good. The restaurant business in Bee Lin is treating Lun Maung well, and the restaurant gets about 500 customers each day, he says. Is the food good?
“Yes, it’s great, because my wife prepares all of it.”
Additional reporting by May Kha.