NLD Legislators Call for Punitive Action in MICA Graft Scandal

By Htet Naing Zaw 24 November 2017

NAYPYITAW—National League for Democracy (NLD) lawmakers have called for legal action against officials and businessmen who participated in corrupt transactions involving the Myanmar International Cooperation Agency (MICA)—a quasi-governmental agency established by the U Thein Sein administration.

The agency was formed in 2012 as a unit of the former Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries and Rural Development and led by its minister, U Ohn Myint, alongside U Soe Thane, a former President’s Office minister who is now a lawmaker in the Upper House.

At the time, the stated aim of the agency was to promote the meat and fish industry and to improve domestic food sufficiency. MICA was supposed to coordinate with local and foreign companies to develop underutilized assets—mainly farms, fisheries and factories.

In December last year, Dr. Arkar Moe, a lawmaker from Karen State, accused MICA’s board of directors of lining their own pockets. After a parliamentary debate on the issue, the Upper House voted to abolish the agency in February this year.

The President’s Office agreed with the abolition of MICA, U Hla Kyaw, the deputy minister for Agriculture, Livestock, and Irrigation, told Parliament at the time.

On Wednesday, the Parliament’s Government Guarantees, Pledges and Undertakings Vetting Committee discussed an interim report on field surveys in the Yangon and Irrawaddy regions regarding the operations of MICA.

“I would like to urge concerned ministries to think about what punitive actions to take against [corrupt] officials and businessmen,” said lawmaker U Than Soe of Yangon Region (4), who is also a member of the committee.

While it operated, MICA took control of about 70 factories and enterprises and over 150 acres of land. It has not returned them to the government, according to the committee.

According to the committee’s report, while the President’s Office has agreed to MICA’s abolition, it has yet to set a timeframe. Furthermore, it has tasked the directors of MICA with implementing the decision. As MICA’s work is intertwined with that of many other agencies, the task is a complicated one.

Citing the report, lawmaker Daw Shwe Shwe Sein Latt of Bago Region (3) said MICA had “violated the law, misappropriated State property, and lacked transparency.”

The agency barely bothered to inform the new chiefs of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation about its operations, and its contracts are vaguely worded, added lawmaker Dr Pyae Phyo of Irrawaddy Region (7).

U Thein Swe, chairman of the Government Guarantees, Pledges and Undertakings Vetting Committee, told reporters that the interim report had been submitted to the cabinet.

“It is up to the concerned ministries to determine what actions to take,” he said.

After the 2015 election results were released, and with a power transfer pending, the agency hastily signed at least 10 land lease deals with the private sector, with terms of 30 to 50 years. The land covered by these deals was leased out for shopping centers, markets and so on, rather than for activities supporting the country’s fish and meat sector.