Irrawaddy Govt Tells Ex-Chief Minister to Return Over $3 M in Development Funds

By Salai Thant Zin 17 October 2018

PATHEIN, Irrawaddy Region — The Irrawaddy Region government has warned its former chief minister to return within two months the 5.2 billion kyats ($3.28 million) he collected in regional development funds or face a lawsuit.

The previous regional administration, led by U Thein Aung, had raised funds for its Ayeyarwady Multi-Developments Foundation by organizing concerts and soliciting contributions from local businesses and reconstituted it as the Ayeyarwady Health and Education Multi-Developments Foundation before handing over power to a new government in early 2016.

U Thein Aung, who also chaired the local chapter of the outgoing Union Solidarity and Development Party, allegedly transferred the region’s development funds to the new foundation, of which he was also the patron.

“We have asked him to reply by Oct. 19. We have asked him to give back the money saved in banks immediately, the money invested in companies within 30 days, and the money lent for regional development projects within 60 days. If he fails to do so, we can only take action in line with the laws and rules,” Irrawaddy Region Finance and Planning Minister U Htay Win told reporters on Monday.

The investigation started after U Zayar Min Thein, a lawmaker representing Pyapon (1) in the local legislature, asked the Irrawaddy Parliament in 2016 if the previous administration had handed over the regional development funds to the new government.

On instructions from the President’s Office, the Auditor General’s Office carried out an investigation and reported back that the funds should be reclaimed from the foundation.

The Auditor General’s Office found that the foundation had saved nearly 4 billion kyats with private banks, invested around 400 million kyats in joint ventures with three private companies, and lent nearly 1 billion kyats for 28 regional development projects.

Again on instructions from the President’s Office, the new administration asked that the funds be returned. The foundation offered to provide records of the savings accounts, accounts receivables and loan contracts, but the administration insisted that the funds be returned in cash.

“We will only accept the money in cash. It is hard for us to ask for money [from businesses and borrowers],” said U Htay Win, the regional finance minister.

The foundation’s secretary, U Kyi Aung, told The Irrawaddy that the funds had not been misused.

“When we received the money, we got it in cash and accounts receivable. So we can only give the government back the cash and accounts receivable. We didn’t spend any money [for personal use]. This can be settled if the foundation, the regional government and those who have to give back the money have a tripartite meeting,” he said.

Late last month, the Mandalay Region government said its predecessor had returned 500 million kyats ($315,000) it had failed to properly account for while in power.

The regional chief minister U Zaw Myint Maung said in June that a 2017 audit found that discrepancies and incomplete reports relating to the use of regional development funds amounted to 3.75 billion kyats ($2.36 million) between 2012 and 2016, before the current administration took office. He said officials from the previous administration had agreed to give back all the money by March.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.