Speaker's Son Rejects Links

The son of Burma's Speaker dismisses any business links with a minister under probe for graft.
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A Burmese man chatting online at an Internet cafe in Rangoon, Aug. 23, 2010.
A Burmese man chatting online at an Internet cafe in Rangoon, Aug. 23, 2010.

Prominent Burmese businessman Toe Naing Mann, founder of local telecom group Redlink, on Monday rejected suggestions his company enjoyed a "business partnership" with former Minister of Posts and Telecommunications Thein Tun, who is under house arrest over investigations into corruption.

He also dismissed any notion that his business was linked to his father, Shwe Mann, who is the powerful Speaker of Burma's lower house of parliament.

Toe Naing Mann has been accused by some activists of being a crony capitalist. Redlink, a wireless service provider, has a big market share in the telecom sector, which is largely the monopoly of the ministry, controlled by Thein Tun until last week.

"Yes, I am the son of U Shwe Mann, but I am running Redlink Communications for my family as a business, which is what I believe I am good at, being a young entrepreneur," Toe Naing Mann told RFA's Burmese Service.

"We have a family relationship as a father and a son but, U Shwe Mann is not linked to Redlink Communications."

Shwe Mann, a former general and third-in-command of the military junta that ceded power in 2011, is now a major campaigner for reforms. President Thein Sein, who was less senior than Shwe Mann in the old regime, is the key architect of the reform agenda in the current nominally civilian administration.

Official links

Asked about Redlink's ties with Thein Tun, Toe Naing Mann said the links were mostly official.

"When the Ministry of Telecommunications asked us something on communication technology or when we have difficulties on technology and administrative issues involving users, we had to contact and work with former minister U Thein Tun. This is because I am involved in the Internet business," he said.

"But, we don’t have any other relationship with U Thein Tun except for these reasons."

Washington-based Burmese pro-democracy activist Aung Din last week called for Redlink to be investigated in the current anti-graft drive at the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications where dozens of officials are being questioned over suspected corruption.

Aung Din charged that Redlink's substantial control of the market share "means there is corruption based on the current system" but he doubted Thein Sein will take "significant action against people such as Thein Tun and also his related business partners like Toe Naing Mann, who is very powerful."

Sources had said that the exorbitant cost of mobile phone SIM cards in Burma—around U.S. $250 compared to just U.S $1.50 in some neighboring countries— and the prohibitively expensive cost to install Internet access were due to the monopoly held by the ministry.

It fuels cronyism and kickbacks that need to be paid at each step of a business deal, jacking up costs that make such services a luxury for the average Burmese citizen, the sources said.

Toe Naing Mann said bringing down the cost of mobile phones depended on financial resources and technology, adding that the government was moving to address the problem.

Reported by Kyaw Kyaw Aung for RFA's Burmese Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.





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