Myanmar’s parliament on Tuesday appointed a 15-member commission to crack down on corruption, which remains a major problem in the country as it evolves from decades of harsh military rule to a democracy.
But lawmakers and other public figures warned that the panel, led by a retired top general, must act tough to weed out graft by overseeing the implementation of the Anti-Corruption Law passed last year.
The commission’s members were chosen from among a list of former senior civil servants, lawyers, auditors, lawmakers, and military generals submitted to parliament by President Thein Sein last week.
Five appointees were chosen from Thein Sein’s list, while another five each were chosen from nominees submitted by parliament’s upper and lower house speakers.
The commission’s two leaders—former Maj. Gen. Mya Win, and former ambassador to China and army brigadier general Tin Oo—were among the nominees from the president’s office, and were announced by parliament speaker Shwe Mann during Tuesday’s session.
“I announce that Mya Win is appointed as the commission’s chairman and Tin Oo is appointed as the commission’s secretary,” Shwe Mann said.
Myanmar’s Anti-Corruption Law aims to eradicate graft through a transparent government to protect the public from losses related to corruption, to take effective action against corrupt public officials, improve the country’s economic development, and attract foreign investment.
An anti-corruption working committee—chaired by Vice President Sai Mauk Kham—was put into place on Jan. 8 last year, but the Anti-Corruption Law called for a new commission to enforce the legislation.
According to the law, passed in July last year, Myanmar nationals aged between 45 and 70 can be elected as members of the commission, whose period of service is to coincide with the president’s and may only last two terms.
The commission is comprised largely of former government staff whose previous work is less known to the public.
Lawmakers expressed hope Tuesday that the new commission will effectively root out corruption in Myanmar, which ranked 157 out of 177 countries on Transparency International’s annual survey of corruption perceptions last year.
Hopes for commission
Aung San Suu Kyi, head of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), cited Transparency’s survey while emphasizing the need to tackle graft in the country.
“Our nation is on the list of countries with a bad image for corruption,” she told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“That must be reformed and is the responsibility of the government. That means not only parliament, but people from the administrative ministries [working together].”
NLD lawmaker Win Myint said that even with the passing of the Anti-Corruption Law and the establishment of the working committee, the new commission will need to do more than its working committee predecessor to ensure Myanmar’s image is improved.
“This time, the commission must do specifically what it has to, according to the law that was specifically written on corruption,” he said.
“If we really want to rid ourselves of graft, we must have the desire to work against it. If not, our country will remain on the list of countries with bad perceptions of corruption.”
Hla Shwe, a member of parliament from the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), told RFA that the commission “has to point out who is corrupted,” but expressed confidence that members of the panel would “willingly” do so.
Others expressed less assurance that a commission would be enough to bring an end to the country’s rampant corruption problem.
Thet Zin, the chief editor of The World Today Magazine, said the problem “won’t go away if the government doesn’t do the right things, regardless of whether a commission is formed.”
“People are saying that the judicial sector is the worst-affected by corruption in this country. Government people know about it, but it won’t be dealt with unless they take action against these people,” he said.
Attorney Robert San Aung said authorities should move directly against those who are responsible for graft, rather than forming a commission to do so.
“We have had a committee on corruption before, but nothing changed. Although we now have a commission, if it doesn’t do anything with the people’s interest in mind, it will be a total waste.”
Ahead of Tuesday’s confirmation of the committee members, some had expressed doubts that a panel led by two former generals in the military, which was notoriously corrupt during Myanmar’s era of junta rule, would effect true change in the country.
The online Irrawaddy journal quoted Win Tin, a co-founder of the NLD, as saying that it is unlikely that retired generals and directors who used to be members of the military are “free from graft.”
“The commissioners should be those who will act fairly and are experts on the issue,” said Win Tin, who warned that those connected with the former military regime would not be able to investigate its corruption.
“Speaking colloquially, it would be like appointing the head prostitute as the chairman of the commission for the elimination of prostitution,” he told the journal.
Last month, the World Bank warned Myanmar against corruption as it unveiled a U.S. $2 billion aid package designed to provide better health care and improve supplies of electricity.
Many donors abandoned Myanmar during its nearly 50 years of military rule, which left the country’s economy in ruin.
Reported by Win Naung Toe, Nay Myo Tun and Ba Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.