Myanmar Regime Still Parachuting Army Officers Into Senior Govt Roles

By The Irrawaddy 15 December 2022

Myanmar regime chief Min Aung Hlaing transferred more than a dozen Myanmar military officers to key Union-level agencies and ministries in November, resurrecting his predecessors attempts to militarize the civil service.

Military officers have been transferred to the Union Civil Service Board (UCSB), a body responsible for the recruitment and promotion of civil servants, the Union Election Commission (UEC), and the Ministry of Investment and Foreign Economic Relations.

Since last year’s coup, junta boss Min Aung Hlaing has installed his supporters as heads of ministries and Union-level agencies, and continues to transfer military personnel to different parts of the government.

Half of the 30 ministries represented in the military regime’s cabinet are now overseen by military officers.

Parachute policy

Just as coups by the military are an old story in Myanmar, so is the transfer of army personnel to important positions in the country’s administrative mechanism.

The policy was first introduced by the late dictator General Ne Win following his 1962 putsch. He set out to embed the military in every sector of the government, from low-ranking ministerial bureaucrats all the way up to the presidency, and it was regarded as one of the worst aspects of his decades-long rule.

An illustration for the regime’s parachute policy.

Known as the ‘parachute policy’ in Myanmar for the way in which high-ranking military officers are dropped in to preside over ministries and agencies, it results in professional and competent administrators having to work under active or retired military personnel who have little or no knowledge of their respective areas of responsibility.

Observers believe that the assiduous implementation of the policy over the years is one of the reasons why Myanmar is always one of Southeast Asia’s poorest countries when under military rule.

Than Shwe, Ne Win’s successor, also embraced the ’parachute policy’ despite its shortcomings, as did U Thein Sein when Than Shwe appointed him as head of a quasi-civilian government in 2011. Now, Min Aung Hlaing is finding the policy useful as he attempts to cement power.

Military officers in civilian costumes

Ne Lin, an army officer who previously worked at the Ministry of Defense, became the director-general of the Union Government’s Office a few months ago. Director-general is the highest position most civil servants can attain, but traditionally it is a rank reserved for junta sympathizers and beneficiaries of the ‘parachute policy’.

The UCSB has also been taken over by the military, with nine officers led by a colonel from the Military Appointments General Office posted there in November. They have been assigned to handle the records of civil servants, said a UCSB official. The officers come from different units including the Military Appointments General Office, the Defense Services Academy, the Military Training Office, light infantry battalions and regional command headquarters.

The two civil service institutes overseen by the USCB are notorious as facilities where civil servants preparing to take on more senior government jobs have to undergo basic military training. They are also brainwashed into believing that the Myanmar military is the savior of the country, which has been pushed to the point of collapse by opportunist politicians and threats from the West.

Former military officer Aung Kyaw Soe from the defense ministry has become the director-general of the Department of Urban and Housing Development, Ministry of Construction. He is the second army officer to take the helm of a department at the construction ministry, after military engineering director Major-General Myo Thant was appointed construction minister in November.

Some officers have taken up positions in the UEC, further challenging the credibility of the general election which the regime plans to hold next year. The UEC is headed by former Major General Thein Soe, and already has members who are former army officers. Thein Soe oversaw the 2010 general election, which was widely criticized as a sham.

Officers have also been transferred to the Ministry of Investment and Foreign Economic Relations on a mission to boost economic ties with Russia, the regime’s major arms supplier, according to sources.

Hla Moe, Min Aung Hlaing’s classmate from the 19th intake of the Defense Services Academy (DSA), serves as both Minister of Cooperatives and Rural Development and agriculture minister. The current Naypyitaw Council chairman, Tin Oo Lwin, was also in the same intake at the DSA.

Information minister and former Major General Maung Maung Ohn was part of the 22nd intake at the DSA and is a friend of junta deputy leader Soe Win. Regime spokesman Major-Gen Zaw Min Tun is the junta’s deputy information officer.

U Thein Sein’s government created a permanent secretary position for ministries after the military’s proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party lost the 2015 general election to the National League for Democracy (NLD), leaving behind many military officers in ministries.

After taking power, some NLD ministers lamented that the permanent secretaries and director-generals left behind by the Myanmar military were willfully disobeying NLD orders.

It seems that some army officers are happy to parade in civilian costume at government ministries.