NAYPYITAW — The President’s Office has ordered that unqualified military officers may no longer be transferred to ministries under the control of the civilian government.
The order appears to be the first of its kind since the “parachute policy” was introduced by late dictator General Ne Win for his Burma Socialist Program Party in the 1970s. The practice gets it popular name from the way high-ranking military officers are dropped into positions at ministries and other administrative departments.
Over the past several decades, the practice has seen active and retired military officials appointed to various positions of power, from low-ranking bureaucrats on up to ministers. Critics say it has contributed to the mismanagement that has plagued the executive branch.
From now on, active or retired military personnel are barred from being transferred to civilian ministries unless they are “professionals” with related experience, President’s Office spokesman U Zaw Htay said at a press conference in Naypyitaw on Friday.
When asked why all the directors-general appointed to the President’s Office, State Counselor’s Office and Foreign Affairs Ministry were retired military, U Zaw Htay said the military and government were naturally linked after so many years of military rule. But he added that the practice has been waning since democratic reforms began in 2010 and that the recent directors-general appointees had relevant qualifications.
“Today the younger generations have a greater chance to build their capacity. They study abroad and get MPAs [Master in Public Administration] and MBAs [Masters in Business Administration]. There will be more youths in administration,” the spokesman said.
“In the future, there will be no need to criticize. But for the time being we should be aware that we are in a democratic transition,” he added.
U Zaw Htay said military personnel would still be allowed to be transferred to the police force, which is overseen by the Ministry of Home Affairs, one of three controlled by the military along with the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Border Affairs.
“Some [civilian] officers hope they will get promotions. But then military officers come from above and take the positions. So their hopes are dashed and other staff are also discouraged,” U Aung Thu Nein, director of the Institute for Strategy and Policy, told The Irrawaddy.
U Myo Myint Maung, however, permanent secretary at the Information Ministry and a former lieutenant colonel in the military, defended the practice.
“We are transferred based on our experiences. While civilian staff are working, we are also working [in the military]. But the view of the civilian side is that we get high positions at once,” he said.
He conceded that some military personnel are transferred to civilian posts because of their ailing health or because they violated the military’s code of conduct.
U Zaw Htay said there was also still a need to use experienced ex-military officers because the civilian government was short on administrative experience.
“The perspectives, assessments and performance of those working at the state level and those working at the Union level are different. Similarly, even at the Union level the perspectives of those working at ministries and those at the President’s Office and State Counselor’s Office are different. Because of their unique nature, there is a need to continue with it,” he said.
The Union Civil Service Board, a government body responsible for recruiting civil servants, said at a press conference last year that it would not accept military officers for civilian ministry jobs unless they were rendered disabled while serving.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.