Yangon Chief Minister Files Complaint Against Reuters

By Tin Htet Paing 15 August 2017

YANGON — Yangon Region Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein filed a complaint against wire news agency Reuters on Monday over an article about his regional government’s deal to import buses from China, Myanmar Press Council told The Irrawaddy.

The article, published on August 6 under the headline “Suu Kyi’s man in Yangon under fire over transit deal with China,” questioned the transparency and accountability behind two deals, estimated at more than US$100 million, according to the report.

U Aung Hla Tun, one of the two vice chairpersons of the Myanmar Press Council, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that the council received the complaint letter from the chief minister on Monday and would inform Reuters about the complaint on Tuesday in order to mediate the case.

The chief minister told the council the article was factually incorrect and Reuters had failed to verify the article’s information with him, said U Aung Hla Tun, adding that the council could not disclose any further details about the complaint.

Reuters, however, stated in its report that U Phyo Min Thein “declined several interview requests from Reuters” regarding the story.

The move will be the second incident in which the Yangon chief minister has filed complaint against a news organization. In November of last year, U Phyo Min Thein filed a case with the Tamwe Township police station and a complaint to the Press Council against Eleven Media Group and its chief executive officer Dr. Than Htut Aung, for an alleged accusation in the paper’s editorial that he had accepted a bribe.

The article quoted Yangon National League for Democracy (NLD) lawmaker U Kyaw Zay Ya as saying U Phyo Min Thein’s government lacks transparency and the “image of the government would be damaged if he doesn’t change.”

In late April, Yangon planning and finance minister U Myint Thaung said at the regional legislature that Yangon Bus Public Company (YBPC) purchased 1,000 buses from two Chinese companies selected and endorsed by the Chinese ambassador to Myanmar at a total cost of US$56 million.

New Chinese-made buses at People’s Square in front of Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. / Photo: Thet Tun Naing / The Irrawaddy

Another 1,000 buses were bought from Beiqi Foton Motor Co. Ltd., another Chinese state-owned company, in a private deal by businessman U Kyaw Ne Win, a grandson of late dictator Gen. Ne Win, reported Reuters.

There was no public tender or debate in the regional legislature before the deals were agreed, added the report.

YBPC is a public-private joint venture majority-owned by the regional government, one of the many companies which services the government’s Yangon Bus System (YBS).

The ambassador “guarantees” the quality of products and the price of vehicles are “reasonable,” U Myint Thaung told the parliament.

The two chosen firms were Anhui Ankai Automobile Co. Ltd. and privately-owned Zhengzhou Yutong Bus Co. According to the Reuters’ report, the former is state-run and the latter is led by a member of China’s National People’s Congress.

Dr. Maung Aung, secretary of the Yangon Region Transport Authority (YRTA), the regional government body that oversees the bus system, told The Irrawaddy in January that a government-to-government deal would make the process faster as the city was in short supply of buses.

Dr. Maung Aung was not available for further comment at the time of reporting.

In an email to The Irrawaddy regarding the chief minister’s complaint, a Reuters’ spokesperson said, “Reuters stands by the fairness and accuracy” of the story.

The regional government requested 70 billion kyats in the 2016-2017 fiscal year’s re-budgeting process, saying that the large sum was to be spent on public transportation reform in the commercial capital.