Mandalay Will Appoint Court Ombudsman

By Zarni Mann 26 May 2016

MANDALAY — Mandalay Chief Minister Zaw Myint Maung said he would submit a proposal to appoint an ombudsman to the local courts after seeking approval from the regional parliament and central government. The move highlights just one of the reforms discussed during an event held on Thursday where he met with local political organizations, lawyers and rights activists.

The idea was proposed by lawyers representing the Independent Lawyers’ Association of Myanmar as part of their mission to promote an independent judiciary in the country.

“The ombudsman won’t pressure or influence the courts,” said lawyer Thein Than Oo, adding that the individual in the role would monitor the judiciary during a transitional period and help promote access to justice.

“We can monitor whether the courts issue fair charges,” Thein Than Oo said. “There are cases in which the courts can drop charges but don’t [do so] because of outside pressures, and other cases where defendants are let off with sentences that are too lenient.”

According to the lawyer, the position is not intended to monitor all court cases but only cases pertaining to political issues, press freedom, land rights, human rights, drug abuses, public tranquility and other proceedings that were handled unfairly in the past.

Local activists used Thursday’s meeting to voice their complaints about other local government institutions as well, which they say have remained unchanged.

“In Meikthila Township, most government offices lack transparency,” said a representative of Mandalay Division’s Meikthila’s 88 Generation Student group.

He said people had hope for the new National League for Democracy (NLD)-led government, which took office in March, but that change had not yet been delivered as they had expected. He urged the chief minister to put more effort into reforming government institutions.

During the meeting, local civil society representatives and activists asked the regional government to prioritize environmental preservation and the livelihoods of local farmers when considering development plans, reminding officials that many local farmers have had their land confiscated in the past and currently face severe weather and natural disasters.

As part of the regional government’s 100-day plan, Zaw Myint Maung has held a series of meetings with local administrators, police, civil society organizations and activists. He said he plans to collaborate with them to promote change, but asked for understanding regarding the challenges of solving deeply rooted issues.

“To uproot bad behavior and undemocratic practices, we need time and patience,” the chief minister said, adding that he would need the people’s help, as he anticipates many problems will need to be addressed in Parliament.

Zaw Myint Maung also met with a local committee to take up the issue of squatters in Mandalay, saying he would register the squatters and investigate who legitimately needed housing and who could potentially be fabricating such a need in order to take advantage of the government’s new relocation plan.

He said that under the former government, some squatters were given land and housing which they sold for a profit before returning to live on private or government land illegally. The chief minister added that after a complete record is made of the squatters, the government would have a better idea for a proper solution.