RANGOON — Burmese tycoon Tay Za’s Asia Green Development Bank will sponsor trainings for newly elected members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) as the party’s winning candidates prepare to take up their roles, many for the first time, as legislators next year.
According to an NLD announcement released Monday, five separate three-day trainings for the party’s MP-elects will be held, based on the geographic constituencies to which they won seats in Burma’s Nov. 8 general election.
The first two AGD Bank-backed trainings will take place this month at the Shwe San Eain Hotel in Naypyidaw, a property owned by Tay Za, who remains on a US blacklist barring American companies from doing business with him.
“Since the trainings are for the development of the country, we, AGD Bank, are giving our sponsorship to it,” Wai Lin Oo, deputy managing director of AGD Bank, told The Irrawaddy.
He said that although the exact amount of AGD Bank’s donation was not yet known, the lender estimated that all told its contribution would be about 150 million kyats (US$115,000).
The bank’s generosity—and acceptance of it from the NLD—is being met with some scrutiny, casting a spotlight on the sometimes awkward arrangements that are increasingly likely as the NLD takes the reins of government next year. Like Tay Za, many of the country’s most prominent businessmen remain under US sanctions for their ties to Burma’s former junta.
Yan Myo Thein, a political analyst, wrote on his Facebook that the NLD needed to think twice about whether to accept sponsorship from the “crony” Tay Za, to whom the party might later feel beholden.
“Must they hold the training in a crony-owned hotel and take their sponsorship? Until they are able to come up with a strategy [for handling] policies or projects related with cronies, they should consider this seriously,” he wrote.
Asked about criticism over the party’s decision to hold its first two trainings at a luxury hotel owned by the blacklisted tycoon, an NLD official said convenience was the overriding factor.
“I asked U Tay Za for the help and he agreed to it instantly. It will not be convenient to hold at a monastery since there will be around 200 people,” said Myo Yan Naung Thein, secretary of the NLD central research management, who is also helping to arrange the trainings.
“We are now working for national reconciliation and the main thing is for it to be convenient for the MPs who will attend the trainings,” he told The Irrawaddy.
NLD spokesman Nyan Win told The Irrawaddy that he was not aware of the sponsorship arrangement with AGD Bank, nor did he know of the Naypyidaw trainings’ venue.
“Even if I did know, there is nothing serious, from my point of view, about whether we hire out or get for free the hotel, which is available to all customers,” he said.
The NLD has accepted donations from the nation’s so-called “crony class” in the past. At a fundraiser event held by the NLD to mark the second anniversary of the founding of its education network in Rangoon, the Shwe Than Lwin Company, owned by mogul Kyaw Win, and Htoo Group of Companies, Tay Za’s sprawling business conglomerate, both made donations.
In 2013, NLD chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi went on record as indifferent to any ethical quandary that might be presented by taking money from businesspeople accused of cozy ties to Burma’s former military regime.
“Those who are considered cronies have supported the social activities of the NLD and others. What is wrong with that? Instead of spending their money on things that have no purpose, they have supported things that they should support. It’s a good thing,” Aung San Suu Kyi told reporters while attending parliamentary meetings in Naypyidaw on Jan. 9, 2013.
At the first meeting with NLD MP-elects in Rangoon following the party’s electoral triumph last month, Suu Kyi encouraged all incoming lawmakers to study the Constitution and the party manifesto, and to build “healthy relationships” among each other to strengthen party solidarity and to improve their English language skills.
Of the two Naypyidaw trainings, the first will take place from Dec. 16-18 for winning candidates from Mandalay Division and Shan and Kachin states. MP-elects from Sagaing Division and Chin and Karenni states will get their go from Dec. 20-22.
A third training will be held from Jan. 6-8 at a yet to be determined location, with an additional two trainings to follow in Rangoon the week after.
Additional reporting by May Sitt Paing.