Customs Officials Defend 'Rewards'

By Lawi Weng 29 January 2013

RANGOON — Officials from Burma’s Customs Department held a press conference in Rangoon on Saturday to respond to local media reports that the department routinely misuses money collected through the imposition of fines and other penalties.

Zaw Lin, a senior customs official, denied the accusation, saying that 100 percent of the money the department receives through fines and the sale of confiscated goods goes to the Ministry of Finance and Revenue.

He acknowledged, however, that officials later get a 10 percent share of the total amount as an “incentive” for effectively enforcing customs regulations.

“If you ask me whether civil servants have a right to benefit in this way from enforcing the law, I would say no. But we use this money to reward those—including police and officials from other departments—who cooperate with us in cracking down on illegal activities,” said Zaw Lin.

The press conference was held following a recent report by the Biweekly Eleven, a Rangoon-based journal, that accused customs officials of abusing their powers for personal profit. The journal had also threatened to send a letter to Vice-President Sai Mauk Kham, who heads a government commission on corruption, detailing alleged offenses.

Zaw Lin said that even though customs officials receive a cut of the money they take from those who break import and export laws, this does not mean that they are guilty of corruption.

“We want to be good civil servants and we are trying to keep our department clean,” he said, adding that in the past year, the Customs Department has dismissed two customs officials and demoted 33 others on charges of corruption.

Asked if it was true that customs officials received 700 million kyat (US $810,000) last year through its unofficial reward system, Zaw Lin simply said that the amount was actually very small once it was distributed to officials of all levels throughout the department.

His own share, he said, was just 200,000 kyat ($230).

In addition to addressing the issue of corruption, the officials also discussed other customs-related matters at the press conference, including the new process for importing cars.