RANGOON / NAYPYIDAW — Despite controversy over a phony doctoral degree, the Union Parliament on Thursday approved Kyaw Win as Burma’s presumptive minister of National Planning and Finance, along with 17 other nominees for cabinet posts.
After the National League for Democracy (NLD) put Kyaw Win’s name forward on Tuesday, media outlets were quick to suss out additional information about the ministerial nominee. Kyaw Win’s NLD-provided résumé described him as having received a doctoral degree from Brooklyn Park University. Later, however, it emerged that the university was a sham, with the longtime civil servant Kyaw Win apparently one of thousands of degree-seekers duped by Pakistan-based con artists.
None of the lawmakers in attendance on Thursday raised any objection to the 18 names put forward for ministerial posts this week.
Nyan Win, a senior NLD member, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that the accusations against Kyaw Win were “groundless” because, to his knowledge, Kyaw Win graduated from the university but that it later unexpectedly collapsed.
“Some people want to exaggerate a small matter. The Hluttaw [Parliament] just approved [Kyaw Win to be finance minister]. What can we do about it?” Nyan Win said.
Khine Maung Yi, a central executive committee member of the National Democratic Force (NDF) political party and former Lower House lawmaker, told The Irrawaddy that NLD chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi and President-elect Htin Kyaw should rethink Kyaw Win’s nomination.
“Politicians need to be honest. If they’re not even honest about their educational background, how can people believe them?” Khine Maung Yi said.
“This new government was elected by the people, so the government should only be made up of honest people. This is why we’re dissatisfied with this cabinet formation. Leaders should reconsider [whether Kyaw Win is qualified for the position].”
Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Wednesday, Kyaw Win expressed embarrassment at the entire situation.
“Some time in 2009, I wanted to learn new things, so I searched online and found Brooklyn Park University, which said that it was recognized by the US Department of Education. I registered online and took the exam,” recounted Kyaw Win.
“I was in financial hardship around that time. I had to take the online exam at internet cafés. And I got the certificate in 2010. I was happy and proud to hold a doctoral degree.”
He added that it was only in 2015 that he discovered that his degree was bogus. That assertion contradicts what he told Agence France-Press, which reported on Wednesday that Kyaw Win only learned of the university scam this week as social media users picked up on it.
“I was too embarrassed. All I had tried [to achieve] came to nothing. So I removed the doctoral title,” he told The Irrawaddy, adding that he wanted today’s generation to be careful and to avoid make the same mistake that he did.
“I forgot to remove that university from my profile when I submitted it [to Parliament], which has now caused trouble,” Kyaw Win said.
Despite the embarrassing revelation, Maung Aung, a senior economist at the Ministry of Commerce, said the degree was not as much of a concern as was how Kyaw Win would perform in his new role.
“We need to see his experience, his management style, how he will drive the ministry. This is what’s important. We need to see his performance,” Maung Aung said.
Kyaw Win, an NLD lawmaker from Rangoon’s Dagon Seikkan Township, received a bachelor’s degree in economics from Rangoon University and worked as an officer at the Ministry of National Planning from 1972 to 1992 and at the Internal Revenue Department from 1992 to 1997. Since then, he has been an advisor to the NLD’s economic committee.
Also in for scrutiny this week was the NLD’s expected pick for commerce minister, Than Myint. The Myanmar Times reported on Thursday that he had received a doctorate from Pacific Western University (California), an unaccredited institution described as a “degree mill” in a US congressional investigation. Than Myint defended his educational bona fides, telling the newspaper he had worked seven years to get his degree.
With the Union Parliament heavily stacked in favor of the NLD, it remains to be seen whether the legislature will effectively serve as a rubber-stamp for Suu Kyi, who has said she will be calling the shots in the executive branch via her proxy, Htin Kyaw. With Kyaw Win arguably the first test case of lawmakers’ willingness to challenge the popular party chairwoman, a preliminary verdict would appear to be in.
The Irrawaddy’s Moe Myint contributed reporting.