Govt Forms New Committee on Rakhine; Members Caught by Surprise

By Nyein Nyein 15 March 2019

YANGON — The government has announced a new committee tasked with bringing stability to Rakhine State, whose northern townships have seen heavy fighting between the Myanmar military and the rebel Arakan Army (AA) since late last year.

Some of the appointed lawmakers, however, say they knew nothing until reading about it on Facebook.

In an announcement issued Thursday night, the President’s Office said the 14-member committee would report back to the President’s Office and draw its budget from the Union Government Office. Its duties include meeting with Rakhine residents to consult and explain government policy and to suggest ways to stabilize the region and foster inter-ethnic harmony. It is also tasked with facilitating dialogue between the government, lawmakers and locals.

The announcement, signed by President U Win Myint, says the committee will be led by U Aye Tha Aung, the deputy speaker of the Union Parliament Upper House, and two deputies — all ethnic Rakhine.

However, Union lawmakers for the Arakan National Party (ANP) named to the committee said they were not informed that they had been appointed.

Upper House lawmaker Daw Htoot May said she only found out Thursday night via Facebook.

“I only found out when the announcement from the President’s Office spread on social media, but there is no official notification about it,” she told The Irrawaddy on Friday.

Lower House ANP lawmaker U Oo Hla Saw was also named but had not been informed, either, according to Daw Khin Saw Wai, a fellow ANP lawmaker not named to the committee.

“He told the media that he would not participate because this was a childish act,” she told The Irrawaddy.

She said the announcement also reserves a seat on the committee for an unnamed Rakhine State lawmaker.

“I heard the state speaker also has no idea who it is,” she added. “The party has not been given any information.”

The National League for Democracy has been trying in vain to bring some stability to Rakhine State since taking power in early 2016. It has been heavily criticized for excluding key political and civic Rakhine figures and ignoring local public opinion.

Considering that the government has formed a number of committees already to develop and stabilize the troubled state, “we need to review whether there is a need to form another,” said Daw Htoot May.

The question, she added, is “whether the existing committees are effective; we need to assess whether they are really working.”

For the new group to have any chance of success, the government “should have sought the consent of those who will be on the committee,” said U Ye Tun, a political analyst and former Lower House lawmaker.

“The Rakhine parliamentarians know what the public is thinking, so their consent is important, and they should have been informed and consulted prior to the announcement,” he said.

The fact that some of the appointees are refusing to serve only undermines the committee’s credibility further, he added.

To end the fighting in Rakhine and the country’s other ethnic states, Daw Htoot May said, the government should immediately start creating a federal system.

“The current problems need a political solutions. Therefore, we need to establish a federal state right away,” she said.

“If we can build a federal system, it will help solve the majority of the problems in our country, because as long as there is no equality in politics and self-determination, the ethnic armed conflicts will continue, not only in Rakhine but also in other parts of Myanmar.”