Burma

Myanmar Regime Threatens Banks That Fail to Reopen With Fines

By The Irrawaddy 26 March 2021

In the latest ramping up of pressure on private banks in Myanmar, the military junta has again threatened them with penalties for failing to reopen and ordered them to blacklist staff who refuse to return to work.

Nearly two months after the Feb. 1 military coup, Myanmar’s banking system is in chaos as bank staff nationwide refuse to work under the military regime, joining thousands of civil servants who are participating in the civil disobedience movement. Coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing’s aim of proving that the country’s economy can run smoothly under the dictatorship cannot succeed as long as the banks remain closed.

In its latest attempt to coerce private banks, the Central Bank of Myanmar (CBM) notified them on Tuesday that banks that fail to reopen will be hit with penalties ranging from 2 million to 30 million kyats (about US$1,400 to $21,200) per week, with the precise amount depending on their size and how many banks of similar size fail to reopen.

Additionally, on Wednesday, the CBM announced that all financial companies, including private banks and mobile money services, must require all employees to go back to work, and must share information on employees who fail to do so with other financial organizations—in other words, to create a blacklist of striking employees whom financial organizations cannot hire in the future.

Officials from two private banks confirmed to The Irrawaddy that they had received the separate directives from the CBM.

A senior branch official at the country’s largest private bank told The Irrawaddy that despite the regime’s threats, bank operations would not be able to resume smoothly as long as employees refused to come back.

“There is nothing we can do. Most of them chose to go on unpaid leave when we told them to return [to the office],” he said.

The banks have requested that staff consider the pressures they are facing. “We need to wait and see how employees respond on Monday next week,” he added.

Since early February, hundreds of branches of at least 31 local and 13 foreign banks in the country have closed their doors due to employee strikes, halting all banking services except for mobile banking and ATM services. As a result, almost all trading companies, especially those engaged in sea-bound trade, have been forced to halt operations, as the banks are unable to issue the documents needed to import and export goods. Companies are also struggling to pay salaries, as banks are not providing payroll services.

Despite the military regime’s detention of bank officials and its repeated pressuring of them to make efforts to resume operations, bank employees are staunchly refusing to return to work.

The military regime has also warned private banks that it will carry out forced transfers of private deposit accounts to military-controlled banks if they cannot resume operations.

In addition, banks are under scrutiny following the regime’s announcement that it would investigate all financial transactions of international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) dating back to April 1, 2016. According to the notification, the military regime will investigate the financial transactions of all such organizations since the National League for Democracy (NLD) took office in early 2016.

Recently, when banks made a survey of the number of employees who were willing to come back to the office, only a handful of employees submitted applications. Last week, some of the country’s largest banks opened one or two branches for a limited time, with services limited to cash withdrawals. However, they faced condemnation from anti-coup protesters, with many threatening to close all their deposit accounts if the banks resumed operations.

“We know that our superiors are facing pressure from all sides. But we can’t go back to work while civil servants are risking their lives and giving up everything they have to oppose the regime,” an employee of Ayeyarwady Bank (AYA) said.

“Some might go back. But I won’t…until power is returned to our elected government,” she said.

 

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