Myanmar’s Home Affairs Ministry Reverses Course on Devolution of Power

myanmar-police-roadblock-yangon-july10-2016.jpg Myanmar police block the road to protesters in Yangon during a rally opposing a government edict pertaining to Muslim communities in the majority Buddhist country's restive Rakhine state, July 10, 2016.

Myanmar’s military-controlled Ministry of Home Affairs on Tuesday cancelled plans to give partial control of five of its departments to regional and state chief ministers, following the leaking of an office memo about the change on social media.

Minister of Home Affairs Kyaw Swe sent a letter in August to leaders of the country’s regional and state governments, saying that the power-sharing deal would give them control of the management of the police, Bureau of Special Investigations, Fire Service Department, Prison Department, and General Administration Department.

But following the recent posting of a leaked copy of the letter on Facebook, the ministry has issued a new memo with different wording indicating the departments will remain under its control.

“We just wanted to change the wording of that memo, cancelling the phrase that says we are putting these five departments under regional and state ministries, and replacing it with [a phrase stating that] ‘regional or state chief ministers can coordinate, negotiate and supervise [along with the Home Affairs Ministry] according to the law,’” said Maung Maung Myint, an assistant secretary at the Ministry of Home Affairs.

“We changed the wording because people had different interpretations of the wording in the earlier release, and we don’t want any controversy,” he said.

The home affairs ministry, along with the defense and border affairs ministries, is controlled by Myanmar’s national military, which wields considerable power in politics.

The country’s current constitution, which went into effect in 2008 when a military junta ruled the country, mandates that only the military commander-in-chief can appoint the ministers of the three ministries, which would include the appointment of Kyaw Swe, a former lieutenant general who led the country’s Southwest Command in the port city of Pathein in the Ayeyarwady region.

When the original memo was issued last month, Maung Maung Myint said a constitutional provision allowed civilian chief ministers of states and regions to freely manage the five departments, according to a Myanmar Times report.

At the time, Lei Lei Maw, chief minister of southern Myanmar’s Tanintharyi region, told the local newspaper that the letter did not include details on the governance strategy and mentioned only better coordination of the key departments with local governments.

Political observers view the five departments as bastions of corruption that are anathema to the democratically elected, civilian-led government of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party which assumed power in April.

The NLD under Myanmar’s de facto national leader Aung San Suu Kyi has sought to reduce the power of the national military in politics by pushing for changes in the constitution to reduce its influence and control.

Reported by Waiyan Moe Myint for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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