Thein Sein Picks New Religion Minister Amid Graft Allegations

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 20 June 2014

RANGOON — President Thein Sein has moved quickly to plug a hole in his cabinet lineup, nominating Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Soe Win to replace Hsan Hsint, who had led the ministry until the president sacked him in a cabinet shakeup this week.

Union Parliament lawmakers received the nomination letter to fill the vacant post on Friday, the same day that a note in the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper announced that Hsan Hsint had been “terminated from his duty” amid reports of corruption allegations.

Lower House lawmaker Pe Than told The Irrawaddy that he received the letter announcing the president’s choice for Hsan Hsint’s replacement on Friday.

“If there are any lawmakers who want to object to this appointment of Deputy Minister Soe Win, they will have to send their objection, with the reason they object to him, by Tuesday of next week to the Office [of Parliament],” Pe Than said.

In the note announcing Hsan Hsint’s dismissal, Thein Sein invoked Section 235(c) of the Constitution, which allows the president to force the resignation of any minister who fails to adequately fulfill assigned responsibilities.

“If he fails to comply, he shall be terminated from his duties,” the charter states.

“For myself, I don’t know Soe Win personally, nor the fired Minister Hsan Hsint, but this is a corruption case,” Pe Than said.

Hsan Hsint has been accused of misusing 10 million kyats (US$10,000) from his ministry’s budget for personal family interests, according to reports by Burmese-language media. Before becoming the religious affairs minister in January 2013, he was a lawmaker for the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), representing a constituency in Irrawaddy Division.

The former minister is under investigation for several alleged misdeeds, including complaints about his handling of the Religious Affairs portfolio, presidential spokesman Ye Htut told The Irrawaddy on Friday.

According to a source close to the matter who asked for anonymity due to the sensitivity of the case, Hsan Hsint has been detained by Burmese authorities.

Ye Htut declined to confirm whether the former minister is being held, telling The Irrawaddy to inquire with the Ministry of Home Affairs, which he said is opening an investigation into people involved in the case.

“Whether they will be charged or not will depend on the findings,” he said.

Phone calls to the Ministry of Home Affairs went unanswered on Friday.

Hsan Hsint’s firing follows a controversial raid on a Rangoon monastery by the state-backed Buddhist clergy that led to the arrest of five monks who appeared in court on Friday. Burma’s government is also facing international opposition to bills that call for restrictions on religious conversions and interfaith marriage.

Hsan Hsint is the first minister to be sacked by the Union government in the face of corruption allegations.

In a December 2012 speech, Thein Sein said a “third phase” of his administration’s reform program would be aimed at tackling corruption in government. In July of last year, Parliament approved an Anticorruption Law that has since led to the creation of an anticorruption commission.

Critics say the commission lacks teeth, however, and Burma last year ranked 157th out of 177 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.

Pe Than said the presidential axing of Hsan Hsint would serve as a “good example” to other ministers and government officials who might also be on the take.

“There was not this kind of action for corruption cases like this before, so we’d appreciate it if the president would keep this up,” Pe Than said.

According to an announcement from the Office of Parliament, the Union Parliament will make a decision regarding the president’s nominee on June 25.

With additional reporting from Nyein Nyein.