President Reportedly Set to Fire Industry Minister for Corruption

By Htet Naing Zaw 25 July 2019

NAYPYITAW—President U Win Myint has decided to replace Union Industry Minister U Khin Maung Cho amid a corruption scandal, according to sources inside the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD).

It is the second corruption scandal to claim a Union minister since the NLD came to power in 2016. U Kyaw Win stepped down as finance minister in May 2018 in the wake of a corruption probe. Currently, the electricity minister and his deputy are under investigation by the Anti-Corruption Commission.

A member of the Lower House Investment and Industrial Development Committee told The Irrawaddy on condition of anonymity that the disciplinary action was likely being taken against the minister over his failure to invite tenders for the procurement of raw materials for Burma Pharmaceutical Industry (BPI), a state-owned drug-maker under the Industry Ministry.

There are also suspicions that officials have been cooking the books, as the ministry paid above market prices for equipment used in ambulances the ministry assembled locally, he said.

“[On Wednesday], the President told the minister [that he is dismissed]. There is a cabinet meeting [Thursday]. And the order may be issued [Friday],” an NLD lawmaker in the Yangon regional parliament told The Irrawaddy on condition of anonymity on Thursday.

There has been speculation in Naypyitaw that Deputy Transport and Communications Minister U Kyaw Myo will be appointed industry minister. The Irrawaddy could not independently confirm this.

According to sources, more than 1 billion kyats (about US$660,000) worth of raw materials were purchased for BPI without any tender process being held. The President’s Office also plans to take disciplinary action against other officials involved in alleged fraud.

At a recent Industry Ministry press conference, officials said the ministry targets production of 4.9 billion kyats worth of pharmaceuticals in fiscal 2018-19.

Regarding the ambulances, criticism centered on reports that the ministry-assembled vehicles cost more than imported ones.

According to sources, the unit production cost of ambulances assembled by the Industry Ministry is around 74 million kyats. The ministry said it has handed over at least 55 ambulances to the Ministry of Health and Sports since 2018.

In 2017, the NLD government began suspending the operations of some loss-making state-owned factories under the Industry Ministry.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

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