Former Generals to Run Burma’s Telecoms, Border Affairs Ministries

By Nyein Nyein 14 February 2013

Burma’s President Thein Sein on Wednesday appointed two former generals to his cabinet, picking the country’s air force commander to head the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, while a senior army officer will take over the Border Affairs Ministry.

Opposition parliamentarians said in a reaction that they were powerless to question such appointments, while some added that selecting senior officers into government continued the old, flawed practices of military rule.

As the new telecoms minister, Air Force Commander-in-Chief Gen Myat Hein replaces Thein Htun, who was forced to resign last month after an anti-corruption probe at his ministry implicated him and eight other ministry officials.

Lt-Gen Thet Naing Win, from the Defense Ministry’s Bureau of Special Operations, becomes minister of border affairs. He replaces current minister Lt-Gen Thein Htay. It was announced the latter would return to the Defense Ministry, although sources close to Thein Htay have suggested that he is stepping down for health reasons.

Both appointments were approved by Parliament on Wednesday. The two new ministers are in their late 50s and were due to retire from the military within a few years.

Myat Hein, 58, has served in Burma’s armed forces since 1976. He became air force chief of staff in 2001, before former military junta leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe promoted him to air force commander-in-chief in 2003.

Lt-Gen Thet Naing Win was commander of the Southeastern Regional Command in the 2000s and became a chief of the army’s Bureau of Special Operations in 2010.

The new appointments serve as a reminder that most ministers in Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government are former officers who played a role in the previous junta.

Since taking office in 2011, the reformist president—who is himself a former general—has given only a handful of posts to people without a military background. Last week, the first independent parliamentarian joined his cabinet. Tin Shwe from the small National Democratic Force party became deputy tourism minister.

Opposition members said in a reaction that they were unable to question or block the two new appointments as they lacked sufficient power in the Parliament, which is dominated by the military-affiliated Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and military officers who have 25 percent of the seats.

“It is also difficult to say that we like or dislike the appointees because we do not know much about them, apart from some brief background information,”said Khin Saw Wai, an MP of the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party, a regional party from Arakan State.

She added that current Border Affairs Minister Thein Htay was knowledgeable about ethnic issues in her state, while it remained unclear whether his replacement would have the same level of understanding of such issues.

“Even if we disagree, there needs to be a majority vote to object to such [cabinet] appointments of a particular person,” Khin Saw Wai said.

Win Tin, a senior member of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, said MPs and the Burmese people should object to selecting senior officers into government as it simply continues the flawed practices of past military rule.

“Giving these positions to former generals should not be allowed,” he said. “The practices continue the old methods.”

“We should express our concern about this. If all generals who are near retirement are sent to the ministries, these ministries would be like a waste dump. Our country won’t have any benefit from this situation,” Win Tin remarked.

Additional reporting by Tha Lun Zaung Htet.