Myanmar’s Military MPs Want More Time to Consider ‘State Counselor’ Bill

2016-04-04
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Myanmar President Htin Kyaw (2nd R) and Aung San Suu Kyi (L), chairwoman of the National League for Democracy, attend a parliamentary session in Naypyidaw, March 30, 2016.
Myanmar President Htin Kyaw (2nd R) and Aung San Suu Kyi (L), chairwoman of the National League for Democracy, attend a parliamentary session in Naypyidaw, March 30, 2016.
NurPhoto

Military deputies in Myanmar’s parliament said Monday that they wanted more time to discuss a bill that will make Aung San Suu Kyi a state counselor, fearing that the position will give her power equal to that of the president and upset the balance of power among the three branches of government.

The bill, which passed in the upper house last week, was submitted to the lower house where military deputies, who control a quarter of the seats in parliament, objected to the measure, saying it is unconstitutional.

“We need more time to discuss this bill,” said Brigadier General Maung Maung, a member of the lower house’s Bill Committee. “If we rushed to approve a bill in such a short time, it could call into question democratic standards and the existence of transparency.”

“Our military representatives will discuss amending this bill, according to the constitution,” he said. “If this bill is approved in accordance with the constitution, then military MPs [members of parliament] will support it.”

Lower house speaker Win Myint told lawmakers to submit any objections or proposed amendments to the bill for discussion on Tuesday.

Tun Tun Hein, a National League for Democracy (NLD) party deputy who chairs the 15-member Bill Committee, submitted a report about the NLD’s findings on the draft bill, with the committee’s recommendation that the legislation be passed.

The lower house, like the upper house, is dominated by NLD lawmakers, who won a majority of the votes in last November’s general elections.

Two new ministers

In another development, President Htin Kyaw has nominated two bureaucrats to replace NLD chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi as head of two of the four ministries to which he appointed her.

He made the move after questions arose last week as to how the 70-year-old would manage to lead the foreign affairs, education, electric power and energy, and President’s Office ministries to which she had been appointed, in addition to remaining NLD chairwoman and taking the state counselor post, if both houses of parliament approve the bill.

Htin Kyaw has put forward Myo Thein Gyi, director general of the Department of Higher Education, as education minister, and Pe Zin Tun, permanent secretary of ministry of electric power and energy, as head of that ministry.

“Regarding the president’s nominees for both ministers, we will announce the appointments or the submission of proposals if someone wants to object to them during tomorrow’s Union parliament session,” said upper house speaker Mahn Win Khaing Than.

“If there is no objection, the Union parliament will announce that the nominees are appointed,” he said.

Aung San Suu Kyi will remain minister of foreign affairs and the President’s Office.

Though she is barred from the presidency by a provision in the current constitution that forbids anyone with foreign-born relatives from occupying the nation’s top office, she has vowed to rule from a position above Htin Kyaw, her longtime friend and aide.

Htin Kyaw also sought parliament’s approval for the appointments of Tun Tun Oo as attorney general and Maw Than as auditor general.

Tun Tun Oo was deputy attorney general in the previous government under former President Thein Sein, and Maw Than is a retired rector of the Yangon Institute of Economics.

Gifts for bureaucrats

Aung San Suu Kyi, in her role as minister of the President’s Office, issued a nine-point set of guidelines on Friday regarding the acceptance of gifts by government ministry employees and staff in state and divisional governments to improve government transparency and combat the bribery and corruption that have crippled Myanmar’s development.

The guidelines require public servants to report to their departmental heads any gifts they accept or decline.

They also specify that bureaucrats cannot accept gifts valued at 25,000 kyats (U.S. $21) or more from individuals or organizations, and that the total value of gifts received annually should not exceed 100,000 kyats (U.S. $83).

The 25,000-kyat limit is less than one-tenth the threshold set by the previous administration, according to a report in the online journal The Irrawaddy.

In addition, bureaucrats must distribute flowers and fruit that they receive to staff members.

However, civil servants are allowed to accept gifts valued at less than 100,000 kyats on religious holidays such as the Buddhist celebration Thadingyut or Christmas, when gift-giving is common.

Officials also can accept gifts worth up to and including 400,000 kyats (U.S. $332) as well as travel, scholarships, and medical expenses from foreign governments, The Irrawaddy reported.

Myanmar ranked number 147 of a total 167 countries on Berlin-based Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index in 2015.

Reported by Win Naung Toe for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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