Nay Htun Naing
September 30, 2011. It was Friday. I used to go to the home of late veteran journalist Lu Du U Sein Win on every Friday. I speak with him before getting to the newsroom. But that day was different. I arrived early. I had not talked much as I had an event to cover.
I got a short-message when I was near Sule bus-stop soon after leaving his home: the Myitsone dam project was postponed. President Thein Sein sent a letter to the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (Union Parliament) requesting to temporarily postpone the project during his tenure. After the news was confirmed, I called U Sein Win to give him the information.
He surprisingly exclaimed “Really?”. When I told him it was confirmed, he said “the government has listened to the public for the first time in over five decades”.
He was right. Continuous dictatorial governments ignored the wills of the people for over fifty years.
However, six months after President Thein Sein came to office, the people’s wish was granted for the first time. It was a surprise for the public who did not trust the government, and it sparked hopes that the country would really be on the road to democracy.
Postponing the Myitsone dam project was a positive action for the Thein Sein administration. However, people know how many negative actions followed that.
Saya (mentor) U Sein Win will not see what is happening as he passed away on June 17, 2012. Still, his response on the current situation can be guessed by looking at his opinions and his anslysts.
U Sein Win, just like his colleague renowned journalist and politician U Win Tin, said he did not trust the government.
U Win Tin, Bagyi Moe (Maung Moe Thu) and others regularly met at U Sein Win’s home every Thursday. As a result, they had similar sentiments.
U Sein Win publicly stated in his articles that he did not support the current regime.
“(I) Don’t support the constitution. Don’t support the Thein Sein administration. I am still watching them,” he wrote.
He used to say that as a journalist supporting certain subject, individual, or organization must be done by looking at the standards that benefits the people.
He did not support neither Revolutionary Council government nor Burma’s Socialist Programme Party (BSPP). He disapproved the government that seized power after 1988 and he objected the National Conference.
It was not a surprise that he objected the events following the National Conference since he had always been a man of his principles, virtues and faith.
When U Thein Sein formed the new government, he set three standards to judge the quasi-civilian government. Since he had always been following his principles, his judgments are consistent with them.
The three standards were (1) releasing the prisoners of conscience, (2) ending the civil war, and (3) stopping the Myitsone project.
In December 2011, he added another standard: reducing the burdens of the public by eradicating poverty.
At that time, the Myitsone dam project was postponed. In his next article, U Sein Win thanked President Thein Sein for postponing the project. For that, some teased U Sein Win while some persuaded to be positive toward the government. Nevertheless, he did not change his standards.
When talking about the standards, he once said, “A journalist should never follow anyone’s order except his wit. A journalist never needs to wait for instructions. He must follow his wit and do what needs to be done. The public will indicate what should be done at a certain time. A journalist must obey no one but the public and his own wit. He must never feel sorry for an individual. A journalist needs to boldly write what needs to be written and to undoubtedly say what needs to be said”.
Now is nearing to the end of Thein Sein administration. Therefore, U Sein Win’s standards will now provide judgments for the administration.
The first standard—releasing prisoners of conscience—was not met since recent arrests were made even though some political prisoners were released. Even when Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Min Ko Naing and others were released, U Sein Win regarded the standard was not met since prisoners of conscience remain.
According to the list Association to Assist Political Prisoners – Burma (AAPP-B) published in May, 158 political prisoners remain in Myanmar’s prisons.
Among them are people, exercising their civil right by protesting, arrested under Article 18 and 19 of peaceful assembly law; people arrested for defaming the state according to Article 505 (b) of the Penal Code; and farmers arrested under Article 447 and 427 of the Penal Code for trespassing.
Moreover, the numbers of people and students arrested and detained in Tharyawaddy prison for protesting against national education law is over 480. They are currently facing charges.
Hence, one of the standards U Sein Win set is not met yet.
The second standard is ending the civil war and building peace.
That one also is not accomplished yet. Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement is not singed until now as opposed to what the government had expected. Even if it was signed, no one can guarantee that fighting will end and peace will be achieved.
The last standard, reducing the burdens of the public by eradicating poverty, is far from realization.
Even the statistic of reducing the poverty rate to lower than 26 percent is not reached up till now.
Farmers are losing their lands. Minimum wages for workers is not set. The basic workers are strained under the inflation rate of 8.11 percent. The statistic indicators show the price increasing rate of products are now higher than that of 1988 when general uprising erupted.
Additionally, the tradition of ‘people paying for the debt’ further stresses the people thank to the government’s debt and increased spending of the government.
Thus, it can be concluded that the last standard is not met either.
U Sein Win monitored the government accordingly with these standards. Three standards are not met when the administration is nearing the end of its term.
This answers whether President Thein Sein’s government should be supported or not.
If he was still alive, he would stand firmly by his standards. He would not support until the standards are met.
Another point is anti-corruption measures. U Sein Win provided precautions to the situation.
He wrote that corruption should be rooted out first.
“Dictatorial regimes appoint kowtowers for various positions. When it comes to economic opportunities, only the cronies were permitted. If someone want an economic project, the project must be obtained second-handedly from the
cronies. The other way is approaching someone that can permit such project by yourself. Whatever the case, all the ways must be paved with money. As a result, bribery and corruption are plaguing the system in every corners. If the corruption cannot be rooted out, it will be a waste even if aid and investments entered,” he warned.
Still, his warnings landed on daft ears. Bribery and corruption thrived.
Under the current government, 1,365 reports were submitted to the Anti-Corruption Commission. Among them, only
13 cases were dealt with as of May 2015. That is only 0.95 percent of the reports. It is less than one percent.
U Sein Win cautioned that no matter how much support they get, it will be a failure like “Pyitawthar Project” if bribery and corruption cannot be rooted out.
“Soon Myanmar will get loans and foreign supports, so corruption must be rooted out in advance so as not to follow Africa’s example. If that can’t be achieved, it will be a failure like “Pyitawthar Project”. Under Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League government, the project was initiated to provide a home, a car and 500 kyats monthly income for everyone,” he said in February 2012.
June 17, 2015 will mark three year anniversary of U Sein Win’s death. Even though he has passed away, his standards remain.
What he will say now can be guessed by looking at the standards he set.
I now reminisce the words from a book he translated, Peking Diary written by Derk Bodde. I remember the part about China’s revolution era in 1949.
The lines are: inconsistency between the promises and actions become more obvious when the country is politically failing; people knows that nothing can be implemented if the government cannot manage the country properly; then, they (the government) start to keep making promises and vows without real consequences; and even though everyone knows their words are meaningless, they still keep shouting their chats.
If U Sein Win was alive, he will be citing stronger words and standing firmly with the public.