The Irrawaddy

The Govt’s New Year’s Resolution Should be a Cabinet Reshuffle

State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi sits among members of her administration during the second anniversary of the signing of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement in Naypyitaw in October 2017.

Rather than wishing its fellow citizens good health and wellbeing in the new year, the NLD government should be more serious if it wants something meaningful for 2018 — a cabinet reshuffle.

Over the course of its 21 months in office — to the public’s dismay — most of the leaders of civilian-run ministries have proved themselves inept. They have been incapable of even making their own decisions. They are reluctant to take risks, as U Win Htein, one of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s aides, put it. (Three military-run ministries are excluded, as the government has no power over them.)

With those people in charge, it’s no wonder that we have heard reckless comments, for example that Myanmar’s economy would take off like a “jet” even while local manufacturers were facing hurdles — a lack of infrastructure and an unfair tax system — in trying to attract international investors. People can no longer recall the name of the ethnic affairs minister, who stays out of sight most of the time. And it was disappointing to see a muted information minister when northern Rakhine State was burning and Myanmar was besieged with international criticism over the issue.

For the NLD government, it was a waste of time to have spent nearly two years on incapable ministers. President U Htin Kyaw’s administration had a bumpy start. The announcement of his cabinet was met with ridicule when it emerged that several of his new ministers had fake degrees. When the administration turned one last year, its de facto leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, boasted that the cabinet was corruption-free. It was a delight for the people to hear that. However, they need not only a clean government but also cohesive and effective ministries with the right people in the right places to move the country forward. Political will alone is not enough to build a nation.

It’s an open secret that there are some high-level department officials who are reluctant to be loyal to the NLD government. The majority of them had worked for General–turned-President U Thein Sein during the previous administration. By putting national reconciliation ahead of everything else, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has remained patient with them, hoping they would work for the good of the country. Now, 21 months on, those officials remain far from fulfilling her hopes, U Win Htein said.

So now is the time for the NLD government to have an administrative shakeup for the sake of the people who heartily voted it into power in 2015. It should not let the people down. Any failure of the shakeup to meet the people’s expectations will lead to a failed democratic transition. With the 2020 elections looming, the party seems to be feeling the heat — it just announced plans to reform the party structure in a bid for better performance. The government should follow suit, but quickly, for the clock is ticking.