Lawmakers Demand Revamp of Anti-Corruption Measures

By Tin Htet Paing 11 August 2016

RANGOON — After a two-day debate in the Lower House of Parliament on an anti-corruption proposal, the house speaker ordered the Bill Committee on Wednesday to review Burma’s anti-graft law.

The proposal urging the cabinet to take a stronger line on deep-rooted corruption in the country was submitted on August 2 by Than Win, who represents Rangoon’s North Okkalapa Township. Thirty-two lawmakers registered to debate it.

Burma’s current anti-graft law, enacted in August 2013 under the government of former President Thein Sein, mandated a new commission, which was formed six months later with 15 members appointed by Thein Sein. Mya Win, a former major-general in the Burma Army, was appointed chairman, prompting objections from opposition lawmakers of the National League for Democracy (NLD).

During the two-day debate in the Lower House, lawmakers highlighted how corruption had flourished under decades of military rule. A military representative called for a mechanism to monitor politicians and their family members to ensure against abuses of authority.

Nay Myo Tun, representing Rangoon’s Htantapin Township, said that, despite the enactment of well-intentioned legislation, the commission had not made significant ground in reducing corruption. He suggested the government form a new commission.

“Since the anti-graft law says that the commission’s term is the same as that of the President,” he said, “we now need a new commission under the elected popular government that could implement the provisions of the law in the public interest.”

He also highlighted the importance of government employees respecting the anti-corruption law and of lawmakers holding authorities to account.

According to an annual index published by the Berlin-based graft monitor Transparency International, Burma is perceived as among the world’s most corrupt countries, ranking 147 out of 168 in 2015.

Myint Lwin, who represents Rangoon’s Twante Township, cited a succession of oppressive military regimes as the root cause, saying that only “clean government with clean leaders” could end corrupt practices.

Lawmaker Myint Tun from Sagaing Division said that corruption allows businesses to avoid taxes, encourages illegal trade and widens the gap between rich and poor.

He commented on the profound impact corruption has on Burma’s economy, politics and society: “It is also one of the most challenging realities for the new government. It harms the country’s reform process and its dignity the most.”

He downplayed the link between corruption and low pay for government employees, saying it was related more to the sheer abundance of opportunities for bribery and other forms of corruption. He mentioned complex and excessive bureaucracy as another driver.

Alongside a need for the government to review policies and regulations, Myint Tun called for strengthening the media’s right to information, which would allow the media to contribute to holding officials to account—making it harder for them to get away with past practices.

A lawmaker from Arakan State said that if national leaders failed to reduce corruption during the current “transitional” period, the public would lose faith in the government and may disengage from politics.

Lawmaker Thet Thet Khine from Rangoon focused on the effect corruption has on the country’s economic development, undermining confidence among investors and fostering social instability driven by wealth disparities.

“Deep-rooted corruption will not be cured by a quick fix. It needs strategic long-term policy,” she said.

Anti-corruption commission chairperson Mya Win responded that the body needed more skilled investigators in order to take effective action in corruption cases.

“Corruption happens because there are people who give bribes and people who receive bribes,” he said, referencing the complicity of much of Burma’s citizenry in an entrenched culture of graft. “Both sides need to change their attitude.”

He also conceded that some provisions of the anti-graft law should be changed.

House Speaker Win Myint said that it was not enough to merely urge the cabinet to tackle corruption more robustly: to obtain a corruption-free society, the government, the parliament, the media and the general public should investigate instances of corruption and file complaints with the commission accompanied by evidence.

The anti-corruption commission recently announced that it had so far received more than 2,000 complaints about corruption, but it had investigated and taken action on only around 500.

Chairman Mya Win explained at the parliamentary session that the remaining complaints were not accompanied by legitimate evidence, or were related to events prior to the formation of the commission.

The ruling NLD vowed to establish a “corruption-free society” in its 2015 election manifesto, although analysts have predicted that the new government would face difficulties in reforming Burma’s bureaucracy, where corrupt officials retain considerable power.

In April, in the opening days of the NLD government, Aung San Suu Kyi in her capacity as President’s Office minister ordered all civil servants not to accept any gifts worth more than 25,000 kyats (US$21), an amount 10 times lower than the threshold set by the previous government. This was interpreted as a foretaste of stronger anti-graft measures to come. Expectations have been raised.