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Myanmar struggles to tackle corruption culture

Despite slightly improved performance, Myanmar still facing widespread corruption in all sectors in 2019

Kyaw Ye Lynn   | 08.08.2019
Myanmar struggles to tackle corruption culture

YANGON, Myanmar

Staff at Myanmar's Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) are amazed at the skyrocketing number of visitors -- mostly fresh graduates -- since it announced plans for fresh recruitment late July.

The commission, which now has a staff of more than 300 people, is seeking to hire 135 new recruits, including 25 deputy investigators.

"The deadline for application is Aug. 31, but we already provided nearly 2,000 application forms so far," said Ko Maung, office staff at ACC branch in Myanmar’s biggest city Yangon.

He added that two other branches in the country's capital, Nay Pyi Taw, as well as the second largest city of Mandalay, were also witnessing a similar response.

"Nearly 5,000 application forms are prepared, and now all have been depleted in the first seven days," he told Anadolu Agency, adding that the offices were expected to receive more applicants in the coming days.

"As far as I noticed, most inquirers are youths. It seems they have burning desires to fight against corruption,” he said.

Corruption culture

Corruption is not new in Myanmar. The country was ranked as the world’s most corrupt country by several graft monitoring bodies while ruled by military juntas for nearly a half-century.

Due to the improvements following a series of reforms introduced by a quasi-civilian government since 2010, its situation against corruption has begun to improve.

According to the 2018 Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International, Myanmar stands at 132 out of 180 countries worldwide, compared to 2010 when the group said Myanmar was the world's second most corrupt country after Somalia.

However, corruption is obviously still a thriving phenomenon in Myanmar society, especially in government departments.

Nyo Nyo Thin, the founder of the Yangon Watch, which focuses on monitoring government-funded projects, said people still have to pay bribes to officials in order to have their complicated procedures completed.

She told Anadolu Agency that reforming the current administrative mechanism was vital in tackling this bad habit.

"What is happening now, is staff and officials would not respond to your request in a timely manner unless you pay a bribe," she said.

"You don’t want a headache, so you pay (bribe)," she added, underlining that simple and transparent procurement processes would yield less opportunity for corrupt practices in government.

A survey commissioned by the ACC earlier this year supported that corruption thrived among government staff.

According to the survey released last May, 90% of people who took part responded that they experienced difficulty doing the business with the government unless they bribed officials.

"Small and medium-scale corruption is very systematic in the administrative mechanism," said Kyaw Soe, spokesperson of the ACC.

In most cases, higher officials protected lower ones because they receive a portion of the bribe, he told Anadolu Agency, adding that this made it difficult to prove corruption in the government.

Catching big fish

The ACC, established in 2013 as a public anti-graft body, was once considered as a paper tiger. Doubts grew as the years passed with the commission doing little to exercise its mandate as a result of lacking resources, authority and political will.

However, legal reform was enacted two years after the State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi-led government took office in 2016 to ensure the commission’s independence and protect whistleblowers. A widely respected former general, Aung Kyi, was also appointed to lead the 15-member body.

After this, the commission began making big catches. In 2018, 46 mid-level public servants including Advocate General of Yangon and the head of the Food and Drug Administration were charged by the commission.

It became more active in response to complaints in 2019, bringing corruption charges against the chief minister of the southern Tanintharyi region -- a member of the Central Executive Committee of the ruling National League for Democracy party -- the first case involving high-level government officials since the commission was established more than six years ago.

The commission has been investigating the Electricity and Energy Ministry after it received a complaint accusing the minister and deputy minister of accepting a multi-million dollar bribe in awarding four LNG-to-Power projects.

The commission also checked the bank accounts of accused ministers if there are any unusual transactions, said Soe.

Despite some noticeable achievements, the commission itself is also facing some restrictions such as limited human resources, skills, and experience.

"We even received a complaint that involves Tatmadaw officers, we can’t do anything," he said, referring to the country’s military.

"According to the anti-corruption law and constitution, we can’t intervene any case related to Tatmadaw," he added, asserting that the commission was determined to root out corruption despite limited resources and experience.

The Myanmar Parliament on Monday approved a proposal allowing the country to join the International Anti-Corruption Academy which offers member states technical assistance in fighting corruption.

"It would scale up our capacity, and help us in doing our tasks," according to Soe.

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