NAYPYITAW—More than 3,200 Forestry Department staff overseen by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation have been subject to disciplinary action over the past seven years, department director U Khin Maung Win said, adding that the problem is largely a result of under-funding.
They were disciplined for violations including bribery and corruption, negligence, misconduct, and poor performance, said U Khin Maung Win during a workshop on combating corruption in the forestry sector at the ministry on Monday.
“The main reason [for disciplinary action] was negligence. The second was their poor track record in arresting illegal loggers. Most of the staff members disciplined were rangers,” he said.
Between fiscal 2011-12 and 2017-18, the ministry took action against 3,272 staff. It took action against a further 121 from April to the end of July this year.
Around 35 percent of those disciplined were rangers, while their deputies accounted for the second-largest group, at 34 percent.
A total of 82 staff members of the Forestry Department were the subject of corruption and bribery complaints. The department has taken action against nearly 50 of them, and is investigating the remaining cases.
Director U Khin Maung Win lamented that staff are overstretched and the department is seriously under-resourced with a workforce of just 5,300 staff to take care of over 74 million acres of forest.
Moreover, the department lacks the funds needed to purchase machinery and equipment to manage the forests, he added.
Union Minister for Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation U Ohn Win called for greater efforts to eliminate corruption in the country’s forestry sector.
U Myint Wai, a lawmaker representing Rakhine State’s Gwa Township in the Lower House of Myanmar’s Parliament, claimed that Forestry Department staff do not even have the funds and equipment to transport seized logs in order to hand them over to the department.
He said that if the necessary assistance were provided in a timely manner, Forestry officials would be able to arrest more illegal loggers, thereby reducing both corruption and illegal logging.
“Staff don’t want to spend money out of their own pockets to arrest illegal loggers. It seems that it is easier for them to take money from illegal loggers and let them go. [Failure to fund the officials] essentially encourages corruption among those who wouldn’t ordinarily be corrupt,” U Myint Wai said.
According to the ministry, more than 250,000 tons of teak and other hardwoods were seized over the past seven years. The ministry arrested 306 foreigners and 39,265 locals and seized an unspecified amount of machinery in connection with illegal logging.