A high-ranking Burmese regional official was dismissed Friday for what local merchants say was bribery connected to the lucrative rice trade, in the first high-profile corruption case involving a nonmilitary official since the country's new government took office earlier this year.
The chief minister of southern Burma's Tenasserim region, former Lt. Gen. Khin Zaw, was removed from his post, an anonymous government source said Friday.
Merchants who operate in Tenasserim told RFA Friday that Khin Zaw had been fired for exerting undue influence over the region's highly profitable rice industry and neglecting his duties as an official.
"Khin Zaw, who had previously served as Mandalay division commander, gave special favors to the Mandalay-based Aung Myinthu company as the sole distributor of rice," said one merchant, who asked to remain anonymous.
"He caused hardship for rice traders as well as the local populace in the Mergui, Tavoy, and Kawthoung areas."
A businessman in Kawthoung told RFA that local authorities had recently spoken to officials in the capital Naypyidaw about Khin Zaw's conduct.
"Khin Zaw's dismissal followed a complaint by members of parliament from the Tenasserim region who had discovered his involvement in corruption and failure to act on badly-needed development work—especially in the local transport and the education sectors," he said.
Khin Zaw served in various positions in Burma's former military junta from 1988 to 2010 and was one of 14 chief ministers appointed to oversee the country's regions and states following the country's historic elections in November last year.
Khin Zaw's dismissal for corruption is the first of a nonmilitary official under Burmese President Thein Sein's new nominally civilian government, which took power from the military regime in March.
Thein Sein’s government has sacked several military officials for corruption, including Brigadier-General Tun Than, the former commander of the Rangoon Regional Military Command, who was forced to resign in July, allegedly for corruption.
Since coming to power, Thein Sein has enacted a series of reforms which have been mostly welcomed by the international community, including easing media controls, legalizing labor unions, and suspending a controversial dam project backed by China.
But the United States and other Western nations that have long-running sanctions on Burma are awaiting signals from pro-democracy leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who was freed from 15 years of house arrest last November following landmark elections, on when to lift the restrictions.
U.S. President Barack Obama, who is sending his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on a visit to Burma next month, has also sought Aung San Suu Kyi's "ideas and thoughts about the best approach" to inducing reforms in Burma.
Clinton will be the first U.S. secretary of state to visit the country in 50 years.
Burma, which at the time was ruled by General Than Shwe's military junta, was ranked next to worst in corruption in a report released in October last year by Transparency International, a Berlin-based monitoring group.
The report, “Corruption Perceptions Index 2010,” ranked Burma in a tie with Afghanistan as 176th out of 178 countries, saying at the time that the military regime "controls the whole country ... so if you want to get things done, there is no alternative but to pay bribes to whoever is in charge.”
Reported by RFA's Burmese Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.