Daw Aung San Suu Kyi Says Rule of Law Must Come First

By Htet Naing Zaw 8 March 2018

NAYPYITAW — The misconduct of civil servants can ultimately undermine public confidence in the government, State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said in a public address on Wednesday.

“When administrative measures and decisions are made without reference to the relevant laws and regulations, it leads to poor use of due discretion and can results in biased decision making,” the country’s de facto leaders said in her remarks at the Rule of Law: Conference on Justice Sector Coordination in Naypyitaw.

“As a result, failing to reference the legal basis for decisions by civil servants will negatively impact the rule of law and make people less confident in the government.”

She urged civil servants to carry out their duties selflessly and with good intentions because they are serving the public.

The general administration department, courts, law offices and police forces play crucial roles in implementing the rule of law effectively and are responsible for protecting the public, she said.

“A great many of the complaints sent to higher authorities are concerned with the police,” she added. “If the public is afraid to seek help from the police or does not wish to come forward about a criminal matter, the relationship and cooperation between the public and the police will deteriorate. Consequently, the rule of law will stumble.”

U Thein Than Oo, of the Independent Lawyers’ Association of Myanmar, said the capacity of law enforcement personnel was limited and that the rule of law was too weak in Myanmar.

“Aung Win Khaing [a suspect in last year’s assassination of prominent lawyer U Ko Ni] is at large, and people criticize that two Reuters reporters were set up,” he said.

According to the 2008 Constitution, the lawyer said, the military-run Home Affairs Ministry — and in particular the police force and general administration department, which it oversees — were mainly responsible for these cases. He said the civilian government was next in line.

Thein Than Oo blamed the lack of rule of law on the lack of cooperation between departments.

“Departments should not work as an entity and make decisions on their own. Rather, they should cooperate with each other,” he said.

If good laws only exist in books and are not applied to people’s lives, the rule of law cannot be said to exist, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said. Her National League for Democracy party contested the 2015 election with its eyes fixed on the rule of law, she added.

“Only with the rule of law can other things succeed, for example peace. Some argue that peace should be the top priority, not the rule of law. But without the rule of law, peace will not last long,” she said.

The rule of law, peace and the stability of the country were interconnected and the concern and responsibility of every single citizen, said Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

She urged civil servants not to perform their duties only when there were complaints, but to provide their services dutifully and responsibly.

“To improve the broader governance practices of the public sector, accountability and transparency in decision making and complaints handling are necessary,” she said.

The two-day conference, which ends Thursday, was organized by the Attorney General’s Office to facilitate discussion on the challenges facing the rule of law in Myanmar and how to improve it.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.