The Irrawaddy

Karenni State Lawmaker Calls on Union Ministers, Lawmakers to Disclose Assets

U Soe Thein

NAYPYITAW—U Soe Thein, who served as President’s Office minister under U Thein Sein’s administration, has called on government officials and members of the legislature to disclose their financial assets.

While asking the government if it would proceed with its predecessor’s plan to join the Open Government Partnership during Wednesday’s session of the Upper House of Parliament, U Soe Thein asked the ministers of the National League for Democracy (NLD)-led government and lawmakers to disclose their financial assets publicly.

“People have the right to know how much you owned before you became a minister or lawmaker, and what the difference is after you step down,” U Soe Thein, who is also a Karenni State lawmaker, told reporters.

Then-President U Thein Sein’s administration, he said, formed a committee tasked with joining the Open Government Partnership (OGP), an international platform launched in 2011 for domestic reformers committed to making their governments more open, accountable and responsive to citizens.

The committee held its first workshop in January 2015, said U Soe Thein, who asked if the current government would continue working to join the OGP.

State Counselor’s Office Deputy Minister U Khin Maung Tin responded that the plan would not proceed as the previous government had abolished the relevant leading committee and working committees on March 29, 2016, before the transfer of power.

“Though Myanmar is not an OGP country, it is clear that the current government is doing things that meet the norms of the OGP,” the deputy minister said.

The OGP focuses on budget transparency, the right to information, citizens’ engagement, and disclosure of financial assets by elected lawmakers and high-ranking government officials.

The deputy minister said the current government publicly releases the budget, and permits the publication of 26 newspapers, 219 journals, and 210 magazines, besides state-owned media. There is also an anti-graft body, he pointed out.

Lists of government ministers’ assets and businesses, along with their estimated value, had already been submitted to the president, the deputy minister said.

Lawmaker Dr. Khun Thaung Win of the NLD said U Soe Thein had raised a good question at an appropriate time.

“People have no trust in ministers, and there are reasons not to trust them. No one is perfect, so they should disclose their assets,” he said.

Under then-President U Thein Sein’s administration, current President U Win Myint, who was then an NLD lawmaker, submitted a proposal calling for asset disclosures by ministers. His proposal was voted down, however.

Asked by a reporter in 2016 if the Parliament would require asset disclosure, U Win Myint, who was then serving as the speaker of the Lower House, said it wouldn’t because “disclosing assets would invite crimes.”

His answer drew criticism and people asked if the government was afraid of criminals.

U Soe Thein said whether or not Myanmar joins the OGP is purely a matter of political will.

The government could benefit from joining the OGP, he said. “The image of the current government will improve a lot if it can show that it is not corrupt, and is dedicated to forming a clean government.”

Only the president and two vice presidents are required to disclose assets under the 2008 Constitution, although these are not publicly released and are only presented to the national legislature.

Former President U Thein Sein took back the sealed envelope containing the list of his assets from Mahn Win Khin Than, the speaker of the Upper House, when the NLD took office.