Ex-Minister Says NLD has Wasted Two Years Trying to Build a Better-Performing Cabinet

By Htet Naing Zaw 22 November 2017

Naypyitaw—U Soe Thane, a former minister of the President’s Office in the U Thein Sein government, has called for steps to be taken to ensure the two new ministries proposed by the National League for Democracy (NLD)-led government operate in an effective manner or the revamp will be a wasted effort.

“It is important that new ministries are effective and efficient. Otherwise, establishing 1,000 more departments will be useless,” U Soe Thane, who is also an Upper House lawmaker, told reporters in Naypyitaw.

A presidential proposal to add two news ministries, namely a Cabinet Office Ministry and Ministry of International Cooperation, to the existing cabinet was submitted to the Union Parliament on Monday.

Lawmakers will discuss the proposal and seek parliamentary approval on Thursday. According to the plan, no additional government staff will be employed for the two ministries. Instead they will be staffed with officials currently assigned to the Union government and the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s International Organizations and Economics Department.

There were 36 ministries under the U Thein Sein government. The NLD-led administration slashed the executive cabinet to 22 ministries and eliminated the post of deputy minister at many ministries—a move that overburdened the ministers, according to critics.

U Soe Thane implied that the NLD-led government had cut the cabinet without considering the possible long-term consequences.

“It is important that we see far into the future,” he said. “If those two ministries had been established some two years ago [when the NLD took office], the country could have seen greater progress.”

“Now, two years have been wasted,” he said.

U Soe Thane was one of U Thein Sein’s right-hand men, overseeing the Ministry of Industry and the President’s Office. He was also assigned by the former president to supervise national development projects.

National Security advisor U Thaung Tun, and Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister U Kyaw Tin have been named to respectively take the helm of the Cabinet Office Ministry and International Cooperation Ministry.

The Cabinet Office has many “onerous duties and responsibilities” such as administration, legislation, economic planning, and finance, and the appointment of a minister, who would be accountable to the president, would help make the Cabinet Office more productive, Union Attorney-General U Htun Htun Oo told Parliament.

“Under the previous government, the Cabinet Office was run by a director-general. From a point of view of saving money, the NLD-led government could keep the director-general [instead of appointing a minister],” said U Soe Thane.

“And as for international cooperation, it was previously handled by the Ministry of Planning. So, again from an economical point of view, I don’t think a new ministry is necessary,” he added.

U Soe Thane suggested separating certain ministries, and appointing more deputies to the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation so that Myanmar, whose economy is still largely based on primary industry, can perform better.

“I am not clear about the intention of forming a separate International Cooperation Ministry. In fact, the Foreign Ministry already has a department that handles international cooperation,” said former Lt-Gen Thaung Aye of the opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

Meanwhile, Daw Khin San Hlaing, a lawmaker from the ruling NLD party, expressed concern the two foreign ministries’ jurisdictions may overlap. “I am only concerned that friction may arise between the two ministries. But [the presidential proposal] said the two would cooperate,” said Daw Khin San Hlaing, a lawmaker of ruling NLD.

Currently, Myanmar’s de facto leader, State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, is also overseeing the Foreign Ministry and the minister of International Cooperation would share her responsibility to attend international meetings in the future.