Myanmar Government Needs More Time to Explain State Asset Sales, Minister Says

2016-02-26
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Interview: 'The Tatmadaw Has Vowed and is  Empowered to protect the Constitution.'
Myanmar Minister of Information Ye Htut talks to the media in Yangon, May 18, 2015.
AFP

Myanmar’s government said Friday that its ministries need more time to explain to parliament its rush to privatize certain state assets before the opposition party-led government comes into power on April 1.

The announcement came after the lower house of parliament approved a proposal calling for closer supervision of the quick handover of state assets and property during the power transition period from the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) to the incoming National League for Democracy Party (NLD).

NLD lawmaker Khin San Hlaing, who represents Pale township in northwestern Myanmar’s Sagaing region, submitted the proposal to parliament, requesting that the central government scrutinize the recent hasty sell-offs of assets, including land and projects overseen by ministries and state-owned enterprises, before the NLD takes over.

But relevant government officials did not appear before lawmakers, as requested, to discuss the sale of state-owned land and projects during the political transition period.

Information Minister Ye Htut defended the government ministries and said Khin San Hlaing’s request appeared to be an accusation.

“We will not come and explain things that have been said to discredit the government, but on a national level if we think an explanation is in order, we are willing to do so case by case,” he said.

“Even though we did not go before the parliament, if we feel the public needs to know, then we will explain through the media,” he said.

In response to Ye Htut’s comments, Khin San Hlaing said if the minister wants to explain officially, he should do so before parliament.

“Whether I am accusing the government or not, it would be more suitable for the minister to explain before parliament,” she told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

Sell-offs gain momentum

The spate of state asset sales started to gain momentum after the NLD won general elections by a landslide last November.

Among the projects Khin San Hlaing cited before parliament were a deal struck by the health ministry for a Malaysian company to build a hospital in Yangon under build-operate-transfer terms, and factories that the Ministry of Industry privatized during the past six months, according to a report on Friday by the Myanmar Times.

Other deals she cited were the awarding of prime parcels of state land to both local and international developers, an acceleration of plans for Chinese companies to build hydropower dams on the Thanlwin River (also known as the Salween River), the privatization of remaining state-owned gas stations, and the resumption of operations by a Chinese firm at a controversial copper mine in Letpadaung, Sagaing region, the report said.

“We have seen a lot of discussion among the public and in media as well” about the privatization activity, Khin San Hlaing told RFA. “We see state-owned land and property being sold very quickly. We would like to know who granted permission [for the sell-offs] and how and why the [assets] are being dispensed so very quickly.”

Reported by Wai Mar Tun, Wai Yan Moe Myint and Win Ko Ko Latt for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Nyein Shwe. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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