Questions Over Would-Be Anticorruption Chief’s Military Past

By Nyein Nyein 24 February 2014

Opposition politicians have raised concerns that a new anticorruption commission will not be up to the job of tackling Burma’s endemic graft, after the President’s Office nominated a former military major general to chair the body.

In a letter to Parliament on Feb. 20, the office of President Thein Sein recommended the appointment of 15 commissioners to sit on the new body that will enforce Burma’s Anticorruption Law, passed in July last year.

The nominees included ambassadors, former civil servants, lawyers, auditors and lawmakers, as well as five former military generals, including the nominee for chair: former Maj-Gen Mya Win.

The president’s nominee for the role of secretary of the new anti-graft commission was Tin Oo, currently Burma’s ambassador to China and a former brigadier general in the Burma Army.

Lawmakers are expected to approve the names and the formation of the commission this week. They were given a brief biography of the would-be members of the commission, although only limited copies were distributed.

His biography said that former Maj-Gen Mya Win was in the 16th intake of Burma’s elite Defense Services Academy. Now aged 62, he has visited China 10 times and was the commander of the Burma Army’s Artillery Corps. until he retired from the military in 2012, the biography said.

Mya Win appears on a list of people that remained sanctioned by Australia after the country in May 2012 reduced its list of those sanctioned for their association with Burma’s military regime.

His name also appeared in reports that a Burmese delegation, led by Shwe Mann—now the parliamentary speaker—visited North Korea in November 2008.

Hla Shwe, a member of Parliament with the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), insisted that Mya Win—who hails from the same township as the president: Ngaputaw Township in Pathein District—is a reliable appointment.

“Gen Mya Win is a good guy,” said Hla Shwe, a fellow former military official. “He did no wrongdoing during his service term. For example, when the auditors checked for the expenses of his department, the budget was already accurate, no over- or under-spending.”

Although an anticorruption committee—chaired by Vice President Sai Mauk Kham—has been in place during Thein Sein’s administration, the new anti-grant law called for a new commission to enforce it. The law demands that executive, judicial and legislative officials declare their assets, and the commission—the members of which also must declare their assets—will be responsible for investigating corruption among officials.

But the military and ruling-party links of the nominees raised skepticism that the commission could tackle the deep-rooted corruption that flourished in Burma under decades of military rule. Despite rising in recent years, the country is still ranked 157 out of 177 countries in Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index.

Win Tin, a co-founder of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), said, “Although I respect President Thein Sein’s appointment of those retired officials, I doubt that they are free from graft as they are retired generals and directors who used to be military men.”

“The commissioners should be those who will act fairly and are experts on the issue,” said Win Tin, who warned that those connected with the former military regime would not be able to investigate its corruption.

“Speaking colloquially, it would be like appointing the head prostitute as the chairman of the commission for the elimination of prostitution,” he added.

Opposition lawmakers said that although the list of commissioners had been submitted for discussion in Parliament, the USDP-dominated house would likely approve the recommendations without amendment.

“It’s not like we can choose who will become the commissioners from the list, the appointees are selected for [who the president’s office says is] most suitable for the commission,” said NLD lawmaker Win Myint.

Phone Myint Aung, an Upper House lawmaker from the New National Democracy Party said that the commission was facing a difficult duty, and would therefore need expertise.

“I doubt either corrupt officials or bribe payers will come forward to raise their issue with the commission. Thus, it is the commission’s task to dig out about the corruption,” Phone Myint Aung said.