Nominated Religious Minister Is Also a Graft Suspect: Lawmaker

By Htet Naing Zaw 24 June 2014

RANGOON — President Thein Sein’s replacement pick for the graft-tainted religious affairs minister who was fired last week has also been accused of corruption, a lawmaker says.

Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Soe Win has been tapped to replace former Religious Affairs Minister Hsan Hsint, who lost his job amid media reports that he allegedly misused 10 million kyats (US $10,000) from the ministry coffers.

But Soe Win, who will become the new minister if Parliament approves his nomination on Wednesday, is a graft suspect himself. According to a ruling party lawmaker, he was accused of corruption three years ago while working at the Ministry of Information, and court proceedings are still under way.

While serving as a director of the Ministry of Information’s News and Publishing Enterprise, Soe Win allegedly misused 800 million kyats that had been allocated for the purchase of printing paper for the state-run Myanmar Ahlin newspaper, according to Hla Swe, a Lower House lawmaker for the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

“There are still court proceedings—it is not finished yet,” the lawmaker told The Irrawaddy, adding that a cashier, accountant and distributor who worked under Soe Win were also facing charges.

Hla Swe said corruption was widespread in government ministries, but that he believed the former religious affairs minister, Hsan Hsint, was not fired for graft.

“He did not commit any corruption but was against the president. That’s why he was fired,” the lawmaker said. “He was like rotten fruit in the cabinet, not following the president’s orders.”

State-run media announced on Friday that Hsan Hsint had been forced to resign because he had failed to adequately carry out his duties. The announcement came after a scandalous raid on a prominent monastery in Rangoon, and amid opposition to a ministry-drafted bill to restrict religious conversion.

Meanwhile, Burmese-language newspapers have reported that the former minister misused ministry funds for personal family interests.

Presidential spokesman Ye Htut said Hsan Hsint was under investigation for several alleged misdeeds, including poor handling of the religious affairs portfolio. The presidential spokesman declined to confirm whether the former minister had been detained or to comment on specifics of the investigation.

Some Parliament sources have speculated that Lower House lawmaker Aung Nyein, a former colonel and former director of the Ministry of Information, will object to Soe Win’s nomination.

Aung Nyein is now chairman of the Lower House’s Public Complaint and Appeal Committee. He could not be reached for comment.