Lawmaker Claims Authorities Complicit in Poppy Growing  

By Htet Naing Zaw 21 August 2017

NAYPYITAW — Poppy growers have to pay high taxes to the Myanmar Army, police and ethnic armed groups in order to grow poppy, claimed Dr. Khin Sithu, a National League for Democracy (NLD) lawmaker representing Karenni State’s Loikaw Township.

The lawmaker during the Lower House session on Friday asked the government if it would systematically provide alternative sources of livelihood for poppy growers as a national duty.

Poppy growers even have to pay up to 20,000 kyats to each policeman when authorities show up to destroy their poppy fields under the government’s drug eradication plan, she said.

As she made the argument, military representative Lt-Col Myo Htet Win stood up and raised an objection, stating that her discussion went against the parliamentary laws and by-laws because lawmakers are not allowed to mar the image of an individual or an institution.

“Poppy growers told me that up they are still forced to pay tax to soldiers, police and armed groups. So, I presented this on their behalf. But I had to remove two sentences from my discussion due to the objection from the military representative,” the lawmaker told The Irrawaddy.

Lower House Speaker U Win Myint also removed the two sentences about taxation from the record. He said that it is his decision whether or not to discipline the lawmaker.

“There are provisions in the parliamentary by-laws about the criticism of an institution or an individual and about inappropriate words. The parliamentary speaker has the mandate to handle this if necessary, and my decision is final,” he told Parliament.

“I think the parliamentary speaker will summon me concerning this. Workshops [on drugs] in Yangon and reports also claimed the involvement of authorities,” she told The Irrawaddy.

She said locals in Karenni, Shan, Kachin, and Chin states have to grow poppy as their main source of livelihood because the government had neglected the social security, education and transportation of poor ethnic minorities in those areas.

Deputy Minister for Home Affairs Lt-Gen Aung Soe in response said that the government had implemented a 15-year drug eradication plan until 2014 in 51 major poppy-growing townships—43 in Shan State, four in Kachin State, and two each in Karenni State and Chin State. But the plan has been extended five years until 2019 because of the resurgence of poppy growing in those areas, he told Parliament.

“The new drug control policy includes necessary strategies for socio-economic development of poppy-growing regions,” he said.

The government spent more than 75 billion kyats from 2014 to 2016 on the transportation, education, health, agriculture, water and electricity supply, and livestock breeding sectors in major poppy-growing areas, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs.

“I asked this question on behalf of the people because a bad government policy could destroy more lives than drugs do,” said Dr. Khin Si Thu, the former chairperson of the Karenni State NLD.