Information Czar Makes Case for Staff in Event of Ministry’s Abolition

By Moe Myint 11 December 2015

RANGOON — Burma’s Information Minister Ye Htut on Thursday urged the incoming National League for Democracy (NLD) government to give due consideration to the careers and livelihoods of his 7,000 subordinates as the party looks at bureaucratic reforms that could well see his ministry axed.

Speaking to reporters in Rangoon, Ye Htut acknowledged that the policy of the next government would determine the future of the Ministry of Information, including whether its three state-run daily newspapers as well as TV and radio broadcasters would continue to exist. About 3,000 of the ministry’s 7,000 employees work for its various media enterprises, according to the outgoing minister, who also serves as presidential spokesman.

“I think the NLD government will implement a credible and reliable media,” he said, referring to state-owned news outlets, “with no hesitation to criticize the government and without bias.”

Ye Htut said he hoped that any decision to radically shakeup or outright dismantle the Ministry of Information would include plans for the smooth transition of its staff, either to other civil service positions or alternative employment.

Responding to another reporter’s question, he said that even though the NLD has stated its openness to appointing cabinet members from other parties, he would not consider returning to his current post if offered the job next year. Explaining his decision, Ye Htut said ministers should have familiarity with their chief executive’s way of thinking and vision for governance, as he said he has shared with current President Thein Sein.

“One thing I am sure of is that I will not be a minister anymore,” he said, adding: “My wife has ordered me to stay at home for at least six months.”

Myint Kyaw, a member of Burma’s Interim Press Council, suggested that the country’s three state-run dailies might be one institutional legacy of the former junta that could be abolished, given that they compete with private newspapers for readership in a financially difficult market with significant advantages in terms of distribution networks and funding.

He agreed with Ye Htut’s call for a measured approach to reforms involving the Information Ministry, however, noting that personnel should be transferred to other roles within the civil service where possible.

As is the case in other democracies, state-owned broadcasters could be spared, Myint Kyaw said, citing their potential to fill a programming void on subjects related to ethnic, women’s and children’s issues that are in the public interest, but which private media houses often deem commercially unpalatable.

San San Htwe, a staff officer at the state broadcaster MRTV’s Rangoon bureau with about 20 years’ experience in journalism, said she would accept the new government’s reforms and would not complain if transferred to another ministry, while also sounding a cautionary note.

“If the rearrangement of the new government makes my professional experience irrelevant, I will be in a trouble because everything will be new for me,” she said.

Currently, state-owned newspapers the Global New Light of Myanmar, Myanma Alin and The Mirror, along with MRTV and other broadcasters, earn millions in profits every year, Ye Htut said.

In its party manifesto, the NLD said streamlining the apparatus of state through the elimination or consolidation of some ministries would be one of its priorities, in an effort to improve efficiency and cut down on government spending.

Since its landslide Nov. 8 victory, there has been no indication from the party about which ministries might be candidates for the chopping block, though Ye Htut’s comments on Thursday could indicate an understanding of the increasingly anachronistic space his ministry occupies in the wake of the NLD triumph at the polls.

Information ministries and state mouthpieces in the mold of the Global New Light of Myanmar are typically associated with authoritarian governments, the antithesis of the kind of rule the NLD has pledged to bring to Burma.