Harsh and high-handed language from a Myanmar minister responding to requests for clean water in a rural village has drawn criticism, with a presidential spokesman distancing the government from the minister’s remarks and others calling for strong action against him.
Speaking last week to residents of Thit Ya Kauk village in Myanmar’s Magway division, rural development minister Ohn Myint replied to their concerns over polluted water with curses and rebukes.
The former army general also told the villagers, who complained that water obtained from their existing wells was “yellow” and caused food cooked in it to quickly rot, that if they wanted clean water they would simply have to move.
Some forcefully condemned the rural development minister’s words, saying they reflect the views of conservative figures opposed to the political reforms undertaken in Myanmar since the country’s former military junta stepped down in 2011.
“President Thein Sein has a responsibility to control this kind of minister,” senior opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) member and former political prisoner Win Tin told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“If the president doesn’t do anything to Minister Ohn Myint, this will be an insult to the country, the people, and the process of democratic reforms.”
Change of mind-set
Also speaking to RFA, writer and journalist Zaw Thet Htwe said that while Myanmar’s president is politically moderate and personally honest,“his government team has many people who don’t recognize and don’t accept the current political situation and reform process.”
“I don’t think we can move forward on the path to democracy unless those officials change their mind-set.”
According to Myanmar’s Eleven newspaper on Monday, the minister Ohn Myint used harsh words on the villagers.
“You can complain as much as you like,” Ohn Myint, a former army general, said when villagers asked for government help in building a water purification system,
“[But] don’t say the government is useless. If so, you will not get even a kyat,” he said, referring to the country’s national currency.
“If those who go against the government can’t be controlled,” Ohn Myint warned his listeners, “they must be sent to jail.”
“It is a shame to have this kind of person in the cabinet,” a villager who was among more than a dozen protesting the minister’s action outside city offices in Yangon, Myanmar’s commercial center and former capital.
“He threatened people against asking for anything again in the future,” the villager said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The president or the state court of justice can sue him, and we demand that the government file charges.”
Call for 'clarification'
President Thein Sein’s spokesman Ye Htut called on Ohn Myint to clarify his remarks.
“What he said is a personal matter, not representing the government,” Ye Htut said told Myanmar’s Weekly Eleven Journal.
“He should re-explain his words to the people so that there is no misunderstanding.”
Ohn Myint may be protected from lawsuits because of his status as a government minister, lawyer U Ko Ni said, adding, “any action by a government minister is an action by the government itself.”
Myanmar’s president can ask for Ohn Myint’s resignation, though, he said.
Reported by Kyaw Htun Naing and Nay Myo Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Soe and Khet Mar. Written in English by Richard Finney.