NAYPYITAW—The chairman of an Upper House committee has denied its members took bribes from a mining company during a recent inspection tour of jade-rich Hpakant Township in Kachin State.
At a press conference on Wednesday, U Thein Swe, chairman of the Government’s Guarantees, Pledges and Undertakings Vetting Committee, told reporters that committee members received presents from the company but did not realize the gifts included cash, adding that the money had been returned.
The committee visited Hpakant from Jan. 5-14 to inspect mining companies there, and committee members attended a dinner on Jan. 7 reportedly hosted by a local gems and jade miners association.
As they left the dinner, officials of the association put sealed bags—which they said contained local products—on the committee members’ cars. The members accepted the presents thinking that they were local foods or Kachin longyi, U Thein Swe said.
The National League for Democracy (NLD) lawmaker said dozens of 10,000-kyat (about US$6.80) banknotes that were found in the bags the following day had been returned to U Tin Chant, the owner of Pwint Htoo San Co., a mining company. He added that he had also asked the company owner to sign a letter stating that he had received the money.
“The company owner said he didn’t want to take it back and that it was just a New Year’s present. I said I couldn’t accept it, and gave it back,” U Thein Swe told the reporters.
Apart from the committee members, commanders of local battalions, police officials and heads of government departments also attended the dinner. U Thein Swe said he did not know if the others had received presents.
In 2016, the NLD government announced that it would not renew the licenses of jade mining companies until it had completed an environmental management plan for jade mining areas in Kachin State. Almost all the licenses expired 2018. The Government’s Guarantees, Pledges and Undertakings Vetting Committee’s visit to the mining areas was in part aimed at helping the government prepare the environmental management plan.
According to U Thein Swe, there are only seven mining companies operating with valid licenses in partnership with the government in Hpakant, and Pwint Htoo San Co. is not one of them.
On Jan. 9, a message was posted to a Facebook account with the name Moe Zay Nyein that read, “Upper House lawmakers kept silent after Pwint Htoo San Co., which is illegally mining jade on a large scale in Hpakant, invited them to dinner and put a bunch of money in presents.
“Pwint Htoo San Co. owner Tin Chant is the one who sent major-generals, including the commander of Division 101 Brigadier-General Maung Maung and the commander of Kachin State into prison.”
In May 2018, Major General Nyi Nyi Swe, who was then head of the Southwestern Command and former head of the Northern Command; and Brigadier General Maung Maung Zan, the former commander of Division 101 based in Hpakant, were suspended from the Myanmar military after taking bribes from jade mining companies in exchange for allowing them to continue to operate with expired licenses.
The account owner removed the post after two days, but not before other netizens copied and shared it, tarnishing the image of the committee and its members, said U Thein Swe.
The committee, through the Upper House Speaker, has urged the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Transport and Communications to take action against the account owner.
Among the committee members who went to Hpakant were committee chairman U Thein Swe, secretary U Kyaw Ni Naing, who is from the Union Solidarity and Development Party, and military lawmaker Brigadier General Tin Swe.
NLD lawmaker U Khin Maung Myint, who previously raised a question in the Upper House about the mines in Hpakant, also accompanied the committee members on their inspection tour.
The case demonstrated the need to implement checks and balances on chief ministers and ministers of regions and state governments, U Khin Maung Myint told the reporters.
“I would say our party needs to act as a check and balance against all the chief ministers and ministers,” he said.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko
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