Tycoon Turf
covering burma and southeast asia
Wednesday, November 21, 2018
Magazine

COVER STORY

Tycoon Turf


By Aung Zaw SEPTEMBER, 2005 - VOLUME 13 NO.9


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(Page 2 of 14)

But by hook or by crook they continue to prosper.

 

The secretive and corrupt business environment in Burma lacks any form of transparency, enabling many businessmen to find ways to bribe the top generals and win permission to do business, to export and import goods and gain concessions. Sometimes it works the other way around, with military leaders wooing the business community, exchanging favors for “contributions.” Dealing in drugs, involved in shady business practices? No matter, as long as the “contributions” roll in.

 

Bribery and corruption are thus rampant. Many businessmen are seen as government cronies and in some cases have become pawns in power struggles between the generals.

 

Last year, shortly after the removal from power of military intelligence chief and prime minister Gen Khin Nyunt, many prominent businessmen were summoned by a group of coup survivors—Gen Thura Shwe Mann, newly appointed prime minister Gen Soe Win and Lt-Gen Thein Sein, Secretary One of the  ruling council—and were urged to co-operate with the government. The bewildered businessmen were told that many cases of bribery and corruption had been uncovered in Gen Khin Nyunt’s departments. Honesty and the adoption of world standards of business behavior were now required, the bemused businessmen were told.

 

Prime Minister Gen Soe Win told them: “We wish to urge the entrepreneurs, who are responsible for systematic formation of the market economic system, to conduct their business peacefully and honestly, while equally considering the future of the state and of the people, in accordance with the laws and regulations.”

 

The assembled entrepreneurs were given a detailed description of the reasons for the October coup against Khin Nyunt. They were told that Khin Nyunt’s department and its staff members had been creaming large profits from business and border trade. Khin Nyunt had been told to stop the profiteering but had ignored the order, and he had had to go, together with more than 300 officers and high ranking officials. The National Investigation Bureau and military intelligence service were abolished and Khin Nyunt and his family put under house arrest. Many businessmen with strong ties to Gen Khin Nyunt were investigated.

 

In his speech to the entrepreneurs, Gen Soe Win said: “Bribing and corrupting with unscrupulous staff [and] having relations on [a] personal basis will not be beneficial in any way and will be seen and blamed by the people as plans designed to create a new class that benefits a group or a minority of the people. The government will, without discrimination, protect the interests of the majority of the people in accordance with the policy, rules and regulations instead of protecting personal interests.”

 

At the same meeting, Gen Thura Shwe Mann repeatedly warned businessmen to disclose information on how donations are made. Reports would have to be submitted to new intelligence chief Maj-Gen Myint Swe, he said, warning that those who neglected to do this would be held responsible.

 

Khin Nyunt’s downfall shook the Burmese business community to its roots, and many who had had close contacts with the disgraced prime minister adopted a very low profile indeed. But did Khin Nyunt’s removal and the regime’s call for the adoption of a new honesty clean up the business scene? The answer has to be a resounding No.

 

Businessmen who had (wisely, as it turned out) forged special relationships with the surviving and still powerful generals carried on business as usual, and they prospered.

 

The appeals by Shwe Mann and Soe Win for business honesty and an adherence to legal practices have had no effect—cronyism, nepotism, corruption and bribery continue to rule in everyday business life in Burma.



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