Myanmar’s armed forces have completed their handover of the country’s drug rehabilitation centers under the Ministry of Home Affairs to the government, in the latest move by the military to transfer some of the services under its auspices to civilian control, a government minister said Wednesday.
The centers have been switched over to the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, Minister Win Myat Aye told reporters following a workshop in Naypyidaw.
The move is the first administrative transfer by the military-controlled home affairs ministry to the National League for Democracy-led government, which has been in power since April 2016.
The home affairs ministry’s Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control has transferred the Shwe Pyi Thar center in Pyay in central Myanmar’s Bago region, the Shwe Pyi Thit center in Muse near the Chinese border in Shan state, and the Shwe Pyi Aye center in the town of Pekon in Shan state, he said.
The administrative transfers came less than a year after the social welfare ministry established a rehabilitation department on Jan. 31, Win Myat Aye said.
“All rehabilitation centers under the Ministry of Home Affairs have now been transferred to us,” he said, adding that the military-led ministry will continue providing assistance with security issues, while the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement will administer the facilities.
Win Myat Aye also said that his ministry will focus on fighting drug addiction and on providing effective rehabilitation services.
“Anti-drug campaigns have been successful, but it’s important that addicts kick their habits,” he said. “So we’re remodeling some centers, and others are being rebuilt. Some previous centers were not very effective, so we have to reform them from scratch.”
Khin Maung Myint, a legal expert and former warden of Yangon’s notorious Insein Prison, said more assistance is needed to succeed in rehabilitating young drug offenders.
“The social welfare ministry has been providing medical treatment and counseling services for a while, and the Prison Department has been providing security,” he said.
“The social welfare ministry also provides correctional services, so I don’t think there will be many changes,” he said. “But young people will be better off and have more educational opportunities if more assistance is provided in accordance with international practices.”
Myanmar’s 2008 constitution, drafted by a former military junta that ruled the country at the time, grants the armed forces control of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Defense, and Ministry of Border Affairs, whose leaders are appointed from serving officers by current military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing.
Military hands over GAD
In a move with wider effect, the military will also relinquish control of the General Administration Department (GAD) under the Ministry of Home Affairs to the civilian-led government, Zaw Htay, spokesman for President Win Myint’s office, told reporters on Dec. 21 at a weekly news conference in Naypyidaw.
The GAD would “soon” be handed over to the Ministry of the Office of the Union Government, he said, though he did not provide details.
The switch has been agreed to in principle by both sides, which are working on the transfer process, he said.
The GAD is the “administrative backbone” of the country, acting as the civil service for Myanmar’s 14 state and regional governments and providing the administration for its districts and townships, according to an October 2014 report on the agency issued by The Asia Foundation and the Myanmar Development Resource Institute’s Center for Economic and Social Development.
The GAD plays a variety of roles, ranging from tax collection to land management and assorted registration and certification processes, the report said.
Some Myanmar lawmakers believe the move will advance administrative reform in the country by reducing the GAD’s centralized control of government bureaucracy in keeping with a pledge by Win Myint earlier this year to reinvent the government and prepare Myanmar for a federal system.
“There couldn’t be much effective change if they still go on with those senior officials like the director generals and other directors appointed by the top brass under the old system,” Sai Laik, joint secretary of the Shan National League for Democracy Party (SNLD), told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“There are many efficient civilian officials who have risen up through the ranks by providing good service and gaining experience, so they should be given a chance,” he said.
Thein Tun Oo, spokesman of the opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party (USPD), noted the importance of the GAD as a government agency and said that those who oversee it must have adequate expertise.
“They must know all the important aspects and procedures of the machinery,” he said. “What I mean is if the top officials make wrong decisions, those in the lower ranks who have to implement the policies will have great difficulty.”
‘Critical building blocks’
It is through the minister of home affairs that the military plays a significant role in state and regional government administration. Those who are appointed as leaders of state and regional GADs are designated secretaries of their respective locales and ultimately report to current Home Affairs Minister Lieutenant General Kyaw Swe.
Below states and regions, district administrators who are also GAD officers oversee district General Administrative Offices and supervise townships, which are “the critical building blocks of administration in Myanmar,” according to The Asia Foundation report.
Township administrators, who are always GAD officers, manage each township and provide direction to village tract and ward administrators.
Ye Myint Swe, a lawmaker who represents the Tanintharyi township constituency in the Tanintharyi regional legislative assembly, said that the transfer of the GAD to the civilian-led government could produce a more effective administration at the township level.
“If a law is enacted for township administrators just like the one adopted for villages and village tract-level officials, we could have a very effective administrative machinery in the country,” he told RFA.
Reported By Win Ko Ko Latt, Kyaw Tun Naing, and Kyaw Lwin Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Nandar Chann. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.