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Published on Saturday, 18 August 2012 08:12
The second meeting of the planning commission in session on 13 August (Photo - President's Office website)
As bribery and corruption is well entrenched at every level of government departments, officials will have to tackle the issue seriously, President U Thein Sein said last Monday.
President U Thein Sein, in his role as chairman of the Planning Commission, was speaking on the first day of the Commission’s second meeting.
The President said it is immoral and unethical to offer and accept bribes. It must be stopped with serious action as it tarnishes the image of the government. All are urged to clear flaws and ensure a clean government. The departmental heads and chiefs of every organisation are responsible for whatever their subordinates do and must handle and curb bribery effectively.
The meeting was attended by Vice-President Dr Sai Mauk Kham, Union ministers, the Union attorney-general, the chairman of the Civil Service Board, region and state chief ministers and chairmen of the Self-Administered Division/Zones.
Observers warned that bribery and corruption are risk factors that could delay the democratisation process of the country. It is also threatens to sow chaos into the whole government machinery.
Somalia stood first in the list of the most corrupt nations of the world while Myanmar was placed third in 2011. The report also pointed out that countries ruled by authoritarians breed corruption and bribery, while such practices are lesser in nations where democracy flourishes.
Retired Professor Daw Yee Yee Myint of the Institute of Economy said, “Due to the erratic system in the past decades, bribery and corruption is widespread across the country. Perhaps the practice started with the Myanmar tradition and culture of paying respects along with gift items. In Myanmar, the situation is complex as low salary earners take bribes due to inadequate income, while senior officials and top executives are collecting bribes for various reasons. Therefore, bribery and corruption must be handled with all seriousness, not just with words but by deeds. Moreover, the weaknesses and flaws in the existing rules and regulations must be amended at the earliest.”
Under the new civilian government, many questions were raised and criticism was widespread of the government and the judiciary whether they could really take action against bribery and corruption. Observers pointed out that effective measures and deterrent actions in wiping out this malpractice is urgently needed.
MP Dr Nyo Nyo Thin of Yangon Region Parliament said, “Bribery not only tarnishes the dignity of the government and the country but also jeopardises development of the country.”
She said, “It is one of the main factors pushing the country into poverty. When there are self-seekers, it will be very difficult to wipe out bribery and corruption. The people will have confidence and faith in the government only when deterrent actions are taken against infamous companies and organisations and also corrupt ministers as exemplary punishments.”
Parliamentarians have also expressed their concern about bribery and corruption in the country.
“In this context, a law will be promulgated,” said Dr Myat Nyana Soe, representative of the Upper House. “In the past, an anti-corruption law did exist and the formation of the then Bureau of Special Investigation [BSI] was aimed at fighting corruption. But the mechanism did not work with no action taken.”
He said action will be taken against graft, bribery and corruption when the law comes into force.
MPs discussed the insertion of a provision in the anti-corruption bill at the parliamentary session of the Upper House on July 13 that any long delay by government staff in departmental functioning will face punishment.
Experts from the social field have urged the government to take systematic steps to fight corruption, which is a hurdle for Myanmar’s political change and development.
U Soe Nyunt, chairman of the Myanmar Bird and Nature Society, highlighted the importance of taking action against all those taking bribes rather than targeting the staff at lower levels alone.
He also blamed parliament’s recent rejection of the proposal to declare assets of Union, State and Region government members, which was voted down at the parliamentary session of the Lower House on August 8.
Public opinion is that though bribery cannot be eliminated immediately, taking open action against corrupt top officials can win trust and reliance as well as cooperation.
Demanding asset declarations from MPs is not necessary as they are not in a position to take bribes at present. However, cases where some are found in possession of billions of kyats are unacceptable. In the fight against corruption, it is only necessary to look into the comparison between one’s accumulation of wealth and legitimate rights and privileges as a civil servant, and how much tax has been paid for establishing a family business.
What matters most for the government is to take decisive steps to fight bribery and corruption, especially in departments and enterprises where these problems are common. The ministry of finance and revenue, hydroelectric projects, foreign investment commissions and business-related enterprises have been prone to corruption. Top-ranking personnel should be questioned, too.
It is necessary to take salary gaps into account because while a basic salary for a government employee stands at around K70,000, an experienced mason earns over K200,000. In addition, it is also found that a director-general can in no way support his family with his salary.
When it comes to dealing with corruption, no discrimination should be allowed. A union minister was quoted in a news report of the Hot News journal as saying that corruption cases could be reported to the authority concerned with evidence. In connection with the news report, a Facebook user wrote that “A minister draws a monthly salary of K500,000, but it seems that his current possessions amount to what can be accumulated in thousands of millions of years”.
A businessman said it is about time the government started to get tough with corruption and bribery. He also stressed that those who were involved in corruption in the past should resign of their own volition if they felt conscience-stricken. “If they remained where they are, I have nothing to say,” he said.
For the government, the best solution to fight bribery and corruption lies in the declaration of income and property, and filing lawsuits against swindlers.