Govt Must Publicly Address Deputy Minister’s Dismissal

By The Irrawaddy 22 November 2016

On Saturday, the Burmese people woke up to news of the sudden dismissal of a deputy minister from the Daw Aung San Suu Kyi-led government. The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation’s Dr. Tun Win, an agricultural expert with 40 years of experience, became the first cabinet member to be expelled since the government’s formation more than seven months ago.

The announcement in the state-run newspaper said little about the reasoning behind Dr Tun Win’s sacking. After the government’s information blackout, the outgoing deputy minister’s interview with the media on the same day shed more light on the purge, as well as on the role of U Win Htein, one of the National League for Democracy’s (NLD) secretaries, in the dismissal.

According to Burma’s 2008 Constitution, only the country’s President can be responsible for appointing and expelling a deputy minister. But in Saturday’s interview, Dr. Tun Win revealed that U Win Htein had pressed him “three times” to resign from his position. An intervention by U Win Htein under these circumstances would be highly questionable, as someone in Dr. Tun Win’s position would only be bound to answer to the President and relevant ministers—not to the ruling party itself.

If this is true, the central executive committee (CEC) member of the NLD is arguably meddling with the duties of the Union government led by President U Htin Kyaw and State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The Constitution—that the NLD has been pushing to amend—clearly prohibits the President and cabinet members from involvement in party activities.

U Win Htein has been silent since the dismissal apart from cursing reporters who asked him for comment on the issue.

Also in question is the manner in which the NLD government handled the issue of Dr. Tun Win’s firing. The now ex-deputy minister has a reputation for a clean record, notable professional expertise and enthusiasm for reforming the country’s long mismanaged agricultural sector and land policies. His dismissal is perceived by many as a significant blow to the country, which is struggling to move forward after decades of military dictatorship.

During her political campaign last year, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi made a pledge to uphold “a transparent government” once the NLD came to power. But now the information blackout on the purge casts doubt on her promise. Did Dr. Tun Win cross the line? Was there an abuse of power—and if so, by whom? Why was it U Win Htein who forced Dr. Tun Win to leave, rather than President U Htin Kyaw?

Whatever the reasons, the people who voted for the NLD to have a right to know what happened in this puzzling incident. If it is true that NLD CEC member U Win Htein interfered in the issue, the government deserves criticism for allowing an individual outside of its administration carry out its own responsibilities.