Fighting Corruption Begins at Home
By KYAW ZWA MOE Thursday, March 15, 2012


In Burma, bribery is a way of life. There seems to be no escaping it in all its many forms. From the tea or beer money paid to low-ranking officials to the car keys and cookie tins full of cash or gold reserved for those with real influence, corruption exists at almost every level of society.

Most Burmese grow up thinking that the only way to get things done is by making “donations” to the right people. Even schoolchildren know that their parents are under constant pressure to pay gratuities to their schools and teachers.

Graft is a family affair in Burma. Ministers and directors of governmental departments rarely take their kickbacks directly. A particularly weighty gift of biscuits delivered to the hands of their wives is the preferred way of letting senior officials know how much their help is appreciated.

In Burma, there is no happy occasion that can't double as an opportunity for slipping a gift to someone who matters. The sons and daughters of the powerful are not burdened with oversized presents when they marry, but they invariably acquire quite a collection of car keys, usually to the latest Mercedes or SUVs. When former Snr-Gen Than Shwe gave away his daughter in 2006, for instance, the happy couple reportedly received 70 sets of keys.

Kyaw Zwa Moe is managing editor of the Irrawaddy magazine. He can be reached at [email protected].

For all its ubiquity, however, corruption is still a taboo topic. That's why many Burmese have taken a keen interest in the release of a government audit report submitted to Parliament last week that revealed rampant malfeasance in six ministries operating under the former junta.

Nobody is surprised to learn about wrongdoing among public officials. In Burma, it's as natural as wind and rain. But it's a little startling, to say the least, when the government itself decides to shed some light on these activities.

According to the report, the Ministry of Information, the Ministry of Co-operatives, the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, the Ministry of Mining and the Ministries of Industry No (1) and No (2) were all guilty of gross abuse of power and misuse of state resources.

The sums of money in question, amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars, would be remarkable in any society. In a country as impoverished as Burma, they are breathtaking.

What's all the more disturbing is the fact that each of these ministries was led by someone who still wields power in the current government. Information Minister Kyaw Hsan, for instance, held the same position under the old regime, and the former minister for industry (1), Aung Thaung, is the chief negotiator in peace talks with ethnic armed groups.

Nearly a year has passed since President Thein Sein vowed to tackle corruption in his inaugural address. “The most important task of the new administration is to work together to create good governance and clean government,” he said at the time, urging all levels of government to be transparent and accountable.

Despite these words, however, Burma still scored extremely poorly on corruption last year. In December, Berlin-based Transparency International ranked it 180th out of 182 countries (tied with Afghanistan) in its “Corruption Perceptions Index 2011.”

Soon after the audit findings were submitted to Parliament, Lower House Speaker Shwe Mann agreed to discuss forming a parliamentary anti-corruption commission. It's a welcome move, but already there are doubts about how far it will go to address the issue, given that Shwe Mann's own son, Aung Thet Mann, has reportedly received various lucrative government business concessions for his Ayeyar Shwe War Company. He is on a US blacklist together with other sons of current government officials.

In fact, it would be difficult to come up with the name of a single senior official who is not in some way linked to shady business deals. In Burma, that's just one of the perks of public life.

Last year, a senior presidential adviser warned that any effort to stamp out graft would meet with resistance from people in high places, and sure enough, the backlash has already begun.

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Ma Thitsa Wrote:
Ko Kyaw Zwa ,,,a great piece of analysis...we need to change the mind set of the Burmese people es pecially differentiating between needs and wants.. gift-giving cultural values which are common to traditional cultures have been used for non-transparent and self serving purposes --very demeaning to self integrity and self-respect... we need to teach our people the beauty of traditional values before we can embark on meaningful reforms.

SuuMaung Wrote:
Doing business in Burma…There’re only very few companies doing all those humungous business, & easily countable. Those generals’ sons, daughters, in-laws, very closed to Than Shwe or Mg Aye, their cronies. Once our country was one of the richest countries in SEA, now we are one of the poorest, but we do have billionaires and you know who they are. Seems like the US and Western Countries are being tricked by this cruel, crooked military regime. Just think only one thing, all of a sudden this military regime would change within 3-4 months from what they've been practiced for more than 40 years. Currently what they are trying to accomplish is ‘To get the sanctions lifted, so they can transfer their monies & their assets. That’s all they wanted. I hope Ah Ma won't fall into their tricks. So please be very careful Ah Ma, & also please send this message to Obama & all western countries.
Yes, Fighting Corruption Begins at all those Bogyokes’ & their Cronies’ homes.

Peter Ole Kvint Wrote:
Corruption is also a part of religion in Burma. Where people sacrifice to evil spirits that they must stay away.

mehreh Wrote:
This is good information that i need to domestic video events.

Simon Wrote:
It is not correct that Burma has a corruption tradition,as far as I remember,this whole thing started with dictator Than Shwe(especially his daughter's multi-million dollars wedding).
It is true that the powerful Generals who are corrupted are still in positions of power,and that is the sad part.

Kyansittha Wrote:
GREED is the ROOT CAUSE of ALL WOES in Burma today.
Yes, CORRUPTION CORRECTION must COMMENCE from TOP (Than Shwe, Thein Sein, Tin Aung Myint Oo, Shwe Mann, Kyaw Hsan amongst others) DOWN (cronies and doormen as well).
And they SOLD their SOULS, the IRRAWADDY and ETHNIC ANCESTRAL LANDS to the Chinese GHOULS in Beijing as well.
Daw Suu's CALLS for RULE of LAW would HOLD NO WATER as long as Than Shwe, Thein Sein, Tin Aung Myint Oo, Shwe Mann, Kyaw Hsan and others HOLD SWAY in Naypyidaw trust me.
And even CONQUERING A SEAT in Thein Sein held APRIL FOOL'S DAY ELECTIONS for that matter WOULDN'T MAKE MATTERS BETTER lest Daw Suu forgets.

pps12345 Wrote:
Burma should find third party to check corruption in Burma. When I was in Nay Pyi daw in 2008, I found that one company closer to the prime minister at that time at project with double value of profit without competing with other personal or companies. This is called Quotas among ruling elites in Burma. This is true but Burmese Media accept that is the right of Burmese leader. This is called Burma.

tocharian Wrote:
It's all B's in Burma: Bribery and Bullying
In China it's all C's: Coercion and Coercion
Same thing!

More seriously, I think that it is true that Burma has always had a tradition of being ruled by an oligarchy (who's your daddy?) using patronage and appanage as carrot and stick to control and give favours. What Burma needs is a "French Revolution" of sorts.

The Burmese Chamber of Commerc Wrote:
Foreign investors be extra careful.

Doing business in Burma is not as easy and direct as ever.

Pleasing and bribing till it burns through the pocket and yet nothing is the norm.

The Vietnamese and the Chinese are experts.

KML Wrote:
This is a very remarkable article to be read by all pages of politics in Burma today. We will have democracy and ethnic peace one day, but it wouldn’t be that easy to eradicate corruption. It is well known that no country is free from corruption including those in high ranking with TI , but the corruption there is just once in a blue moon, slipped through the system and quite detectable and manageable. In Burma corruption has been established and accepted as a form of culture, meaning everyone involved. If you do not involve, you will be like ‘drinking the water of legendary bitter rain’. Some of the noble Burmese cultural hospitality such as paying respect to teachers, offering gift to newly wed, and now turned in to a form of corruption. In the early 90s, the new in MTV had been full of donations from businessmen. In fact, the donation is absolute corruption as you give 2 million in order to get a contract worth 50 million. Efficient tax system does not require any donation.

kerry Wrote:
It is not necessary to point out corruption. Everyone knows who and how. It is not necessary for a new Burma (or any country) to be corrupt.

Clearly to avoid Crimes against Humanity there will need to be audits and explanations. This is not something the military and cronies can threaten about. They can however negotiate. The fairest person to negotiate with would be Aung San Suu Kyi.

The wealth was created from much suffering and many deaths, tortures and killings. This is unacceptable in the 21st C. Just as China (and Putin etc) seemed to miss the last many decades of growth and global learning, and now look silly, so too the Burmese military were stuck in the past.

They are not the owners of Burma. They are a sad anachronism, who don't get it yet.

Moe Aung Wrote:
Well, when the fox remains in charge of the chicken coop what do you expect? All the lip service, PR and even going through the motions of clean govt do not amount to any kind of transparency. The kleptocracy is entrenched, and they can't possibly give up the life style they have got so accustomed to.

Wolfgang , Hong Kong Wrote:
excellent article Kyaw Zwa , TKX !

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