Union Minister U Ohn Myint needs to answer

Nay Htun Naing

The way cabinet members and Union Ministers are campaigning for the elections are questionable.

Firstly, the constitution bars president and cabinet members from participating in party politics. To participate in party politics, they must resign from the government positions. However, the union government law allows the cabinet members to canvass for votes. As a result, cabinet members including union ministers campaign for the elections without having to resign from their positions.

In truth, no law can overwrite the descriptions in the constitution.

Therefore, current government officials campaigning for the elections without resigning from their positions contradict the constitution. Only the constitutional tribunal can make a decision on this case, yet the tribunal has been quiet.

It can be considered that the tribunal is not making any decision only because there is no complaint yet. If someone complains, the tribunal must judge the case.

Secondly, while canvassing for votes, the ministers are citing national development projects, implemented by public budget, as their achievements.

Such examples can be seen during the campaign-like trips of the president and speeches made by the ministers competing in the elections.

The three ministries and who are they

By looking at the President and the cabinet members’ trips during the election campaign era and the ruling USDP candidates saying ‘the president is our party’s chair’, they make their moves based on one thing: poverty eradication and rural development.

To be blunt, they are canvassing for votes only by pointing out something that must be done by any government as their sole commitment.

There are also not many development projects that the officials and ruling party members are citing to. Two ministries are noticeable while citing such projects as their commitments.

The first ministry is Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries and Rural Development, under Union Minister U Ohn Myint. Ohn Mynt is one of the main trusted lieutenants of the President and follows him on almost all his trips. Ohn Myint himself will be competing from Kyauktan constituency in the upcoming election.

The other ministry is Ministry of Co-Operatives, under Union Minister U Kyaw Hsan who also has close ties with the president. He will also be competing from Pearl Township constituency.

Union Minister for the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation U Myint Hlaing was previously thought to use projects of the ministry while campaigning for a seat representing Dekkhinathiri Township in Naypyitaw. However, he rarely quoted the projects under his ministry. Still, U Myint Hlaing is viewed as one of the top lieutenants of President Thein Sein.

Likewise, analysts had long predicted that the ruling party will showcase the achievements of the three ministries while canvassing for votes.

The two ministries: three important projects

What the co-operatives ministry mainly done was providing loans to the farmers. The ministry borrowed money from China with 4.9 percent interest rate and provided loans to the farmers with 1.5 percent interest rate. However, the plan did not go well. 20 to 50 percent of the farmers that took loan from the ministry were not able to repay the debt, amounting the debt of the ministry on the government.

There are two projects under Livestock, Fisheries and Rural Development Ministry. One is Myanmar National Community Driven Development (CDD).

For the CDD project, it can be considered the funding was provided by the World Bank and the ministry.

Another project under the ministry is Mya Sein Yaung village project (MSY). The project is funded by national budget; therefore, it cannot be quoted as achievement for the election campaigns. If such actions are found out, legal judgment should be sought.

Mya Sein Yaung project

The Mya Sein Yaung project was initiated in 2014-2015 fiscal year, just ahead of the elections. The funding for the project comes from national budget. Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries and Rural Development manages the funds.

The initial expectation of the project stated that 1.8 million people from 45 districts—125 townships or 1150 villages—will profit from the project. The total expense of the project will be 34.5 billion kyats (roughly about 34.5 million USD) and a total fund of 30 million kyats will be provided for a village.

According to the latest known figures, 43 billion kyats was used for 1450 villages in 280 townships. The initial report to the parliament stated that 1632 villages in 282 townships are targeted in the 2014-15 fiscal year. The current progress suggests it is done faster than the report said.

Likewise, Mya Sein Yaung (Meat Sector) is another project spearheaded by the same ministry. In 2014-25 fiscal year, 6 billion kyat was added to the fund for 484 villages.

The projects were planned to keep the capital and 30 million kyats is allocated for each village. The amount is considered as a capital for the village and the yearly interest will be added to the funds. The villagers are allowed to manage the money to implement livestock, fisheries, agriculture, electricity, produces and other vocational projects.

Myan Sein Yaung project aims to reduce poverty in the country by 16 percent. However, it is questionable why did U Ohn Myint initiated the project only one year prior to the elections.

Mya Sein Yaung (emerald) doubt

U Ohn Myint increased the initial target of the Mya Sein Yaung project from 125 townships to 280 townships (1450 villages) in one year. The ministry also stated it will be increased to 3,000 villages in 2015-16 fiscal year, the year after the election.

Even though the project was implemented with the authority of the parliament, it is questionable why it was allowed during the time the state budget deficit and government spending are high.

On the other hand, the parliament allowed region and state level projects on rural development and poverty eradication projects.

15 billion kyats (about 15 million USD) was allocated for Kachin and Rakhine State individually while 5 billion kyats is used for Chin State. Shan State receives 4 billion kyats and Kayin 2 billion. 

The remaining Regions and State receive 1 billion kyats for development. Even though the parliament allocated funds for each region and state, the amount was not used to the full quota until the first six months of 2014-15 fiscal year. Especially, it is surprising that the fund for Kayah State and Ayeyawaddy Region remains untouched until the end of the first six months of the fiscal year.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries and Rural Development is already implementing CDD project, still the state budget is used for the MSY project.

The MSY project also fails to meet the regulations stated the report of joint public account committee of the Union Assembly published in June, 2015.

The committee pointed two things in the report.

One was that there were no fund accounts in some townships the MSY project is working in and the fact that public funds were directly given without any deposit into such account is against the regulations.

The other point was MSY project sees many misconducts going against the regulations.

According to the facts, U Ohn Myint to answer who allowed to provide the money directly without a public fund account.

At the same time, suspicions arise if the townships that the project is working in are the same as the constituencies that USDP and current cabinet members are canvassing for vote in the elections.

What is sure is that the areas that both CDD project, for which World Bank provided 80 million USD aid, and the MSY project works are mostly the same as the constituencies that USDP and U Thein Sein’s cabinet members are competing in the elections.

Therefore, if USDP won the majority votes in the areas, there will be investigation into whether state budget and international aid funds were used to buy votes.

There will be suspicions on buys votes will arise because the USDP candidates and cabinet members are quoting the accomplishments of rural development; access to electricity and water; and building roads, bridges, schools and clinics during their election campaigns. They also promise to keep doing that. Therefore, it can be considered that the projects that used state budgets and international aids are intended as election campaigns.

U Ohn Myint and profit from jade sector

When there are questionable situations that U Ohn Myint did as a union minister, more questions rise on his involvement in a scandal that costs the country billions of USD. 

In October this year, Global Witness published their research “Jade: Myanmar’s Big State Secret”.

U Ohn Myint was named in the paper as one of the people that abused the jade sector for personal profits.

U Ohn Myint used to be Commander for Northarn Kachin State Military Command and his company sold 80.2 million worth jades before taxing, in 2014 alone.

According to the sources in jade business, Myanmar Win Gate is owned by U Ohn Myint family and in 2007, its subsidiary Myanmar Win Gate Gems and Jewelry was registered.

U Ohn Myint is yet to explain.

Moreover, even more questions can be raised on his relation with Myanmar-International Cooperation Agency.

U Ohn Myint and the MICA

Myanmar International Cooperation Agency (MICA) was formed by the president office under Ohn Myint administration. The MICA seems to run like the Japan International Cooperation Agency. 

It is not clear whether the MICA is the state-owned or the independent organization and there is rumor that Ohn Myint is relating to the MICA’s operation. 

What is more, the authorities had never cleared transparently about the source of the capital investment of the MICA, who founded it, means of profit sharing and the way of re-generation. 

However, the MICA received running operations in animal husbandries, industries and on the lands owned by the Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries and Rural Development without any revealed considerations after the MICA was formed. 

If the MICA leased those state owned businesses and lands from the government, the state has to achieve renting fees for the leasehold properties. On the contrary, it is still unknown whether the state receives the fees in the leases. However, the government transferred the leaseholds to the MICA without any consideration was taken in the leases. 

The MICA was transferred 45 husbandries and industries from the government – seven in Shan State, twenty-one in Yangon Region, seven in Bago Region, one in Magway, seven in Madalay, one in Kachin and another one in Chin State. 

What is more, the MICA received a big land compound from the Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries and Rural Development to run fish market, fishing export dock and petrol shop. In addition, the MICA took a twenty-eight acres land in Gyoungwine Village located in the other side of Kyimyintaing harbor to run the shipyard. 

Likewise, the MICA obtained the multi-purpose husbandries located in Ywarthargyi Township and six acres of land in Hlawka Livestock. 

The minister Ohn Myint is responsible to clear whether the MICA is the state-owned, joint-venture with the state, or the independent organization. Next to them, it needs to be cleared the question of whether it is founded with the state budget, whose capital investment is used, how much the state receives profit from it, whether the state receives the reasonable values for renting lands and industries owned by the state and the pattern of profit sharing. 

On the other hand, Ohn Myint has never revealed or explained about his properties, businesses, incomes, and taxes given by his family. He had better explain about the mentioned aspects as a parliament candidate.  

It is obvious that the state projects, profits generated from them and his properties are questionable. That is not his personal and private issue. 

What is more, he must answer for these including family’s properties, incomes and the amount of taxes paid in line with the election law and other existing laws. How a person who earns Ks. 3 million per month export could jades with the value of more than USD 80 millions in a year? There is another consideration of the living standards of the people who live in Kyauktan Constituency where he is competing in the election, that of the people who live in the native town of Ohn Myint and the wealth of his family.

The questions are not just for him, but also for all union ministers who are competing in the election.  There are also questions to be raised in the post-election. They are coming soon.