Lawmaker U Tun Tun Speaks on Magwe Embezzlement Investigation

By Pe Thet Htet Khin 7 April 2017

The Home Affairs Ministry, in its probe into the alleged embezzlement of 2.8 billion kyats (US$2.1 million) by the former Magwe divisional government from regional development funds, found that the former divisional chief minister U Phone Maw Shwe and his cabinet members spent 1.7 billion kyats on the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

The investigation was launched after Lower House lawmaker U Tun Tun of Magwe’s Pwintbyu Township asked the parliament about missing regional development funds which were levied from small-scale crude oil producers in Magwe Division under the previous government.

According to the investigation by the Special Investigation Bureau overseen by Home Affairs Ministry, the former Magwe divisional government in fact received 7.5 billion kyats in regional development funds levied from small-scale crude oil producers.

It allegedly spent 4.8 billion kyats for regional development works, 1.57 billion kyats for government-funded microcredit services, and 1.7 billion kyats on the then-ruling USDP.

U Tun Tun spoke to The Irrawaddy’s Pe Thet Htet Khin about the matter.

When did you come to know the funds were missing?

Under the former government, when crude oil producers transported their oil barrels from Magwe Division to other divisions and states, taxes were levied of between 3,000 kyats and 5,000 kyats per barrel, which went into regional development funds.

First, I learned that the previous divisional government got 2.8 billion kyats from licensing oil fields and levying tax on transporting oil barrels over its five-year term. So, I asked the new divisional government, and they replied that they didn’t know the exact figures.

So, I raised a question in the Union parliament’s Lower House, and the Minister for Electricity and Energy U Pe Zin Htun replied on behalf of the new Magwe divisional government that the money was not transferred to the new government. He said that the Magwe divisional government would investigate it. But I said that the Mawge divisional government alone would not be able to investigate it, and called on the Union government to cooperate.

The investigation was launched and it was found that the total amount of money received was more than 7 billion kyats.

Has the accused party ever met the new divisional government or lawmakers since then to give an explanation?

No, none of them have ever come and explained. The money, which was collected for the regional development of Magwe Division, must be spent on education and health for the local people. That’s why I asked that question [about the money]. I didn’t ask it out of personal hatred.
The funds amassing more than 7 billion kyats were collected from the crude oil industry alone. Are you suspicious there are similar cases?
Of course there are. It is only because we have no reliable information [that we cannot say for certain]. Besides the crude oil industry, there are other industries, such as coal mining in Magwe Division.

What impacts would those funds have on regional development?

We are building roads that have never existed in Magwe, and are also expanding and upgrading the Magwe-Naypyidaw road and the Minbu-Shwe Set Taw road. Under the new government Magwe saw the least development among other divisions and states because those funds could not be thoroughly spent.

The military-drafted 2008 Constitution prohibits laws from being enacted to provide retrospective effect. What would you do if the case is just neglected?

It is totally unacceptable that public funds were used for a particular political party or an organization. I think the new divisional government has asked the concerned persons if they would return the money. We are just lawmakers and we don’t have executive power. We can ask questions and submit proposals at the parliament. Yes, the constitution prohibits retrospective actions. But it is the case of the misappropriation of public funds, and I am now waiting and seeing if they will return the funds. If they do not, I will have to ask the question in parliament again.