The Anti-Corruption Commission Lands Some Big Fish at Last

By The Irrawaddy 14 September 2018

The decision by Myanmar’s Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to take action against the attorney general of Yangon Region and five other officials for taking bribes in exchange for withdrawing a murder case is a landmark move in a country plagued by rampant, chronic corruption in every sector of the government, including the judicial system.

The commission announced on Thursday that the attorney general, a judge, three law officers and a police officer have had cases filed against them under the Anti-Corruption Law that would, if the accused are found guilty, earn them maximum sentences of 10 to 15 years in prison. The senior positions of the officials involved make this the most high-profile case in which the anti-graft body, which was established two years ago, has been able to open cases.

In an indication of the public’s disdain for corrupt officials and the practice of taking bribes—which has long been an open secret among Myanmar citizens—the commission’s move has received strong public approval. Much to the people’s elation, the graft body has been able to catch some “big fish” this time, ensnaring high-ranking officials occupying such senior positions as attorney general, deputy district judge and Yangon regional law officer. This is not simply the joy of watching high officials fall from grace—the people know that targeting senior officials is one of the best ways to stem the tide of corruption.

Moreover, by sending a signal that the administration takes seriously its pledge to implement the rule of law, the move goes some way toward assuaging the concerns of the Myanmar people, who are coping with the effects of economic mismanagement by the government they voted for. Let’s not forget that the previous administration under former president U Thein Sein failed to tackle corruption despite enacting the Anti-Corruption Law in 2013.

The ACC must keep doing its job, as there are many, many more big fish out there and the law states that the fight against corruption is a national cause. At the same time, we must wait and see to what extent the commission takes action against the accused. In May, despite receiving complaints and conducting an investigation, it declined to take legal action against the country’s former finance minister, saying there were insufficient grounds to bring charges under the Anti-Corruption Law. It should be remembered that the cases against the regional attorney general and others involved in the withdrawal of the murder case were only filed by the ACC after a public outcry prompted the president to intervene and call for a review of the case.

For now, however, kudos to the commission chairman and his team. The ACC has achieved a tangible outcome. It has a presidential mandate to take action against anyone, whoever they may be, and report back to him if it faces any intervention from “someone upstairs” during its investigations. Let’s hope that in future it will be more pro-active, and independent, in excising the cancer of corruption from the body of the nation.