Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Hluttaw to debate asset disclosure proposal

Government ministers should be required to publicly disclose their financial assets as part of U Thein Sein’s “clean government” drive, politicians and observers told The Myanmar Times last week.

The call comes after National League for Democracy Pyithu Hluttaw representative for Pathein, U Win Myint, submitted a proposal to the hluttaw on July 24 that would require national and regional ministers to reveal their properties, businesses and other assets.

The following day, the hluttaw agreed to discuss the proposal and representatives who want to take part in the debate were told to register with the Hluttaw Office by July 26.

“The president said, ‘Our government is working to realise good governance and to bring about clean government.’ The people are also hoping that this is the case. [Declaring assets] is a crucial requirement for the development of the state. It corresponds with the democratic practices,” U Win Myint told the Pyithu Hluttaw.

“The government comprises those who have been entrusted by the people to exercise executive power. Transparency and accountability of government members is important for the future of a country. If there is transparency and accountability between the government and the people, the people will trust the government and collaborate in its tasks. As trust and collaboration intensify, the people will do their civic duties better and abide by the law.

“The country will develop. Democratic values will increase. Our goal of building a real democratic state will be a success. That’s why I have presented this proposal.”

The proposal was seconded by Pyithu Hluttaw representative U Pe Than from Myebon in Rakhine State. “To bring about clean government, it is important that there are clean government members. So I second the proposal,” U Pe Than said.

Only the president and two vice presidents are required to disclose assets under the 2008 constitution, although these are not publicly released. “The president and the vice presidents shall furnish a list of family assets under his direction, namely land, houses, buildings, businesses, savings and other valuables together with their values to the Head of the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw,” section 68 states.

Observers said that while transparency has increased significantly under the new political structures, most recently with the publication of draft bills in state media, broadcasting of parliamentary discussions and government’s willingness to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

But legislation requiring assets to be declared would be another positive step and give greater credibility to the president’s anti-corruption drive.

“Governments in every democratic country practice this kind of a system to show that they value transparency. The government here should also take this chance, and by doing so [ministers] will avoid raising people’s suspicions and show they are clean – at least while they’re a member of the government,” said U Thu Wai, chairman of the Democratic Party (Myanmar).

“If we can compare their assets now with, say, 2015 we will have a pretty good idea whether they have been obtained legally,” he said.

When asked about the issue in early July, Minister for Industry and Myanma Investment Commission chairman U Soe Thein told journalists that he valued transparency and would have no problem disclosing his assets.

“In my opinion, it’s a good process,” he said at a meeting in Nay Pyi Taw on July 1.

U Thiha Saw, chief editor of Open News journal, said lists of assets of government ministers had already been submitted to the cabinet when the government was formed. “But if they release details of their assets to the public, the hluttaw and people can watch what they do during their time in government more closely,” he said.

“It will be a very positive step if it implemented and the government really practices it.”

But U Thu Wai warned the system would only work if loopholes were eradicated. A similar law was enacted during the Burma Socialist Program Party era but not followed properly. He said it would be a good test of the commitment of members of the government to the president’s reform plans.

“[Ministers] will show their assets properly if they are committed to clean government and want to set an example and show they are clean,” he said.