Authorities in Myanmar are continuing to investigate the alleged embezzlement of regional development funds in the Magwe region and review a claim of 4 billion kyats (U.S. $2.9 million) supposedly used for regional development in the central part of the country.
Phone Maw Shwe, former chief minister of Magwe, has already said he will ensure that a total of 7.5 billion kyats (US$5 million) in missing funds will be returned to the regional government’s coffers. He also said the 4 billion kyats had been used for regional development.
Questions about the money arose a year ago when Tun Tun, a lawmaker from Magwe’s Pwintbyu township, asked parliament about the alleged embezzlement of regional development funds collected as taxation from small-scale oil producers in Magwe region by the previous regional government.
The Bureau of Special Investigations under the Ministry of Home Affairs began probing the matter and found that 7.5 billion kyats was missing, more than 3 billion (U.S. $2.2 million) of which had been spent on the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which was then in power.
Nay Myo Kyaw, minister of labor and migration for Magwe region, said on a debate program broadcast on April 1 that he was starting an investigation of the missing funds, the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) reported.
Phone Maw Shwe, who served as chairman of the USDP’s Magwe region chapter while he was chief minister, and Kyi Tun, chairman of Shwe Thukha Microcredit Association and chairman of the Magwe Division Development Foundation, sent a letter to current Magwe chief minister Aung Moe Nyo on April 27 indicating that they will transfer the 3 billion kyats to the current regional government.
Nay Myo Kyaw, spokesman of the Magwe regional government, said the funds will be directed to helping residents, and that if the pair fail to return the money as promised, the Magwe government will take action against them.
Once it has received 3 billion kyats, the Magwe government will review the rest of the missing funds that are due, he said.
“We have a committee to receive the returned money, but we haven’t received any of it yet,” said Nay Myo Kyaw, adding that the two men pledged to return the funds during the first week of May, and they still have until the end of the week to transfer them.
“Magwe’s chief minister has already talked about how this money will be used [to benefit] people in the region,” he said. “We will discuss in parliament how we will use this money in 25 townships in Magwe region—mostly on development.”
NLD government sends letters
The current ruling government under the National League of Democracy (NLD) party sent letters dated April 18 to Phone Maw Shwe and Nyi Tun asking them to provide an explanation for the missing funds.
The letters instructed the two to return 1.7 billion kyats (U.S. $1.2 million), four motor vehicles, a backhoe, and two boats that had been donated to the USDP through the Magwe Division Development Foundation.
They were also asked to return more than 1.57 billion kyats (U.S. 1.1 million) of funds that had been transferred to the microcredit association.
The government’s letter threatened action against the pair if they fail to respond or do as they promised.
Kyi Tun said his microcredit firm will return the 1.57 billion kyats it had received from regional development funds under the previous government, the online journal The Irrawaddy reported.
“We have given loans to people with that money, and we have to ask them to pay them back,” he was quoted as saying. “I have verbally told this to the secretary of the Magwe [regional] government.”
He also said the firm will repay the money as soon as it gets it back from borrowers, but that it is difficult to set a time frame” for the repayment, according to the report.
USDP spokesperson Nandar Hla Myint denied the allegations that Phone Maw Shwe had misappropriated more than 1.7 billion kyats from Magwe’s development funds, though the former chief minister has not made a public statement on the matter, the report said.
On Friday, the USDP threatened to take legal action against the Magwe government for attempts to attack its credibility or gain a political advantage in the scandal, it said.
Aung Moe Myo told DVB on Sunday that Phone Maw Shwe had returned the backhoe, an Isuzu truck and three minibuses, and the speedboats the previous day.
Myanmar is ranked 136 out of 176 in Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index, with the same overall score as Nigeria, Lebanon and Guatemala. The country’s score has improved in recent years.
Reported by Thet Su Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.