The Irrawaddy

President Pushes for Speedy Trials, Govt Reform

YANGON —President U Win Myint warned local authorities in Yangon and Bago regions this weekend not to drag out high-profile legal cases or verbally commit to any projects the union government has yet to approve.

In a meeting on Sunday with Yangon Region administrative, legislative and judicial officials aimed at speeding up government reform efforts, the president urged his audience to support the rule of law and to avoid bias and corruption.

The president also stressed the importance of having the courts issue timely rulings in high-profile legal cases, according to lawmakers at the meeting.

Among the high-profile cases in Yangon is the murder trial of the men accused of assassinating National League for Democracy legal adviser U Ko Ni; the trial has been going on for more than a year, and the key suspect is still at large. In a separate cases, two detained Reuters reporters were recently charged with breaching the Official Secrets Act after some six months of hearings; their trial has only just begun.

Lawmaker U Kyaw Zeya said Yangon Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein also briefed the president on the controversial New Yangon City Project. The president did not object, he said, “but he told the chief minister to make sure that existing new [parts of Yangon] are completed with urban facilities fit for human settlement.”

U Phyo Min Thein has come under fire for his determination to press ahead with New Yangon City, which he claims will generate 2 million jobs. Some urban planners say the massive project is unrealistic, noting that many newer parts of Yangon still lack basic infrastructure.

U Win Myint also met with government officials in Bago Region on Saturday and warned them not to verbally commit to projects the union government has yet to officially approve, such as the planned Hanthawaddy International Airport.

The union government has since March been in negotiations with Japan to finance the airport — which would lie 80 km north of Yangon — after talks with a Singapore-led consortium fell apart in January.

Video of Saturday’s meeting was posted online and shows the president looking annoyed when informed that compensation for land confiscated in the airport project area would be distributed soon.

“Let me ask you: Has the union government decided that it would be implemented? We haven’t decided yet. It’s a union government decision. Please don’t verbally commit,” he said.

U Win Myint said that if regional governments verbally commit to something the union government has not yet approved, the public will get the wrong impression.

“And then protests will erupt. Debates in Parliament will follow. The government will have to make it right, and our reform program will get nowhere as we spend time on issues like this. So please don’t do it,” he said.