Overall Corruption Situation Has Not Improved, Anti-Graft Chief Says

By Htet Naing Zaw 30 April 2019

NAYPYITAW—Despite the strenuous efforts that have been made to fight corruption, the practice remains rampant in the country, Anti-Corruption Commission chairman U Aung Kyi said.

The chairman stressed the severity of the situation as he submitted his agency’s annual report for 2018 to the Union Parliament on Monday.

To assess the level of corruption and gauge the success of its measures to combat it, the commission hired an independent third party to conduct a nationwide survey. The survey, which did not include Chin State, was conducted from October through December.

“According to the survey, corruption had not declined significantly by the end of 2018, and remained at the usual [level],” U Aung Kyi told Parliament.

Asked for their opinions on the major factors contributing to corruption, survey respondents cited a self-interested mindset, resistance to change, ineffective action against corruption, and poor rule of law in certain places.

Corruption will remain as long as there is vast bureaucracy in government departments, said Lower House lawmaker U Nay Myo Tun of Htantabin Township.

“For example, even the process of applying for a citizenship ID card is not simple. And [departments] ask for a lot of information and people can’t present all the documents. So, they choose to pay bribes in order to get things done, which leads to corruption. Unless procedures are streamlined in the departments, this will continue to happen,” U Nay Myo Tun told The Irrawaddy.

The commission received 1,054 complaints in 2018, of which only 46 could be handled under the Anti-Corruption Law. The remaining 1,795 complaints were referred to the concerned departments for action according to the code of conduct for civil servants.

Of the 1,795 complaints it handed over to the departments, the commission said action was taken on 536 complaints.

The Education Ministry will establish complaint-handling counters in the basic education sector next academic year, which starts in June, said the deputy director-general of the ministry, U Ko Lay Win.

“For example, people with links to the Education Ministry offered appointments [as basic education teachers] and transfers [to schools in major cities] in exchange for money. They asked that the money be transferred via Wave Money,” he said.

Wave Money, a provider of mobile financial services, is a joint venture between Norwegian telecom operator Telenor and local bank Yoma Bank.

“In that case, we asked the Home Affairs Ministry to investigate. We can sue the perpetrators under other laws, but not under the Anti-Corruption Law,” he added.

In cases of corruption among education staff and teachers, an internal investigation is done and action is taken against them under the code of conduct for civil servants. Punishments include demotions among other steps.

“Corruption will not die unless and until it is viewed as a sin, as shameful by society. [But what is happening in reality is] that people take pride in getting rich due to corruption. That wrong notion is entrenched in society,” said Yangon-based author Zarni Soe Htut.

Fighting corruption will take time, said U Aung Kyi, calling corruption the major obstacle to poverty reduction and development, and a problem that weakens the entire society, with harmful political, administrative, economic and cultural effects.

“It is a long-term process to be carried out with a grand strategy that takes into consideration the structure of the country, strength of institutions, behaviors of citizens, traditions and customs,” he said.

The fourth amendment to the Anti-Corruption Law has given the commission a broader mandate. The amended law gives the commission the authority to investigate any civil servant who is seen to be unusually wealthy at its own discretion. Previously, it could only probe allegations of corruption in response to formal complaints filed with strong supporting evidence.

The commission can also take action against bribe givers under the new law. The amendments also expand the anti-graft body’s reach, with commission branches to be opened in other states and regions. The new law also focuses on educating the public about combating corruption, starting in primary schools as well as in government departments.