Myanmar Corruption Busters Defend Poor Record Against Top Figures

By Htet Naing Zaw 23 September 2019

Naypyitaw—In response to complaints that the Myanmar Anti-Corruption Commission is only taking action against junior civil servants and not those in positions of power, chief investigator of the commission U Thant Zaw said as many as 75 percent of complaints it received were filed against the rank and file and not the upper echelons.

He told a press conference at the anti-graft body in Naypyitaw that action is taken against any corrupt figure, regardless of rank and status. But he said the body received less than 20 percent of complaints against those in positions of power, starting from ward and village administrators to holders of high office.

“So I hope you understand why our punitive action has impacted more on junior civil servants,” he said.

The Irrawaddy prompted the press conference by earlier asking government spokesman U Zaw Htay about the lack of senior figures facing corruption charges.

“We have seen harsh action taken against civil servants and some lawmakers were only asked to sign [pledges that they would not repeat offenses],” said U Zaw Htay.

The public can file complaints against politicians and senior civil servants, but in most cases, they end up as speculation, as it is usually difficult to gather conclusive evidence, said Yangon-based journalist U Thiha Thwe.

However, it is much easier to gain evidence when a lower-level civil servant violates the code of conduct, he said.

“Usually, the complainants have scant evidence [against senior figures]. The top-level defendants can prepare carefully to get rid of evidence depending on the degree of power they have. They normally have a good chance of escape. But the lower-level civil servants are more closely locked into the regulations,” he told The Irrawaddy.

The Anti-Corruption Commission has helped form 20 corruption-prevention units (CPUs) at ministries.

President U Win Myint in December approved the creation of CPUs within government departments.

The CPUs are part of the Public-Private Collaboration against Corruption plan, a key part of the Anti-Corruption Commission’s 2018-21 strategy, according to the commission’s chairman U Aung Kyi.

He said the CPUs were key to restoring the credibility of civil servants and the public’s trust in public services. The CPUs’ most important task, according to the commission, is to conduct risk assessments in order to find the causes of corruption and devise appropriate control measures.

“Intra-ministry CPUs taking responsibility to fight corruption will help reduce graft at departments,” said chief investigator U Thant Zaw.

In August, the commission received a complaint against a deputy director, U Maung Maung Tin, and dismissed him after an investigation found he violated the ethical standards.

U Aung Kyi told the Parliament in May that high-ranking figures tend to cover up misconduct and corruption of their subordinates rather than investigate and find out the truth.

The anti-graft body received 10,543 complaints from the public in 2018 with 7,945 filed against civil servants, 1,888 against politicians and 710 against the private sector.

Currently, the commission has opened a case against factory manager Dr. Aung Zaw of state-run drug-maker Burma Pharmaceutical Industry for corruption. It is also investigating Lower House parliamentarian U Kyaw Myo Min of Bago Region’s Moe Nyo Township for demanding cash from fishermen in his constituency in exchange for fishing licenses.