UMFCCI head to step down

Fac­tions have emerged at the Union of Myan­mar Fed­er­a­tion of Cham­bers of Com­merce and In­dus­try as the body’s long-stand­ing pres­i­dent has said he will not be stand­ing in an up­com­ing, con­tentious vote.

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - SU PHYO WIN su­phy­owin@mm­ ZAY YAR LINN za­yarlinn@mm­ STEVE GIL­MORE s.gil­more@mm­

U WIN Aung, the long-stand­ing pres­i­dent of the coun­try’s lead­ing busi­ness body – the Union of Myan­mar Fed­er­a­tion of Cham­bers of Com­merce and In­dus­try (UMFCCI) – has said he will not stand in an up­com­ing elec­tion that has prompted fresh in­fight­ing and ar­gu­ment over how the or­gan­i­sa­tion is run.

The UMFCCI wields con­sid­er­able in­flu­ence in the busi­ness sec­tor – host­ing for­eign del­e­ga­tions, con­nect­ing in­ter­na­tional firms with lo­cal part­ners and lob­by­ing the gov­ern­ment on eco­nomic pol­icy. Myan­mar firms must be UMFCCI mem­bers to ex­tend com­pany reg­is­tra­tion, se­cure an im­port-ex­port li­cence, and re­ceive a cru­cial coun­try-ofo­ri­gin cer­tifi­cate to pro­vide to for­eign buy­ers, ac­cord­ing to sec­re­tary gen­eral U Moe Myint Kyaw.

Mem­ber­ship fees pro­vide the or­gan­i­sa­tion with around K450 mil­lion a year, he added.

The cham­ber held its first elec­tions in 2013 after draft­ing a new con­sti­tu­tion, re­plac­ing a sys­tem where the Com­merce Min­istry ap­pointed se­nior fig­ures. But some mem­bers claimed the in­au­gu­ral elec­tion, in which only around 3 per­cent of mem­bers voted, was un­fair, opaque and de­signed to en­sure se­nior of­fi­cials were re-elected.

The run up to this year’s vote on Septem­ber 17 has sparked a fresh round of ac­ri­mony. Mem­bers have al­ready en­gaged in heated de­bate over whether sit­ting pres­i­dent U Wing Aung should be al­lowed an­other term, the rules on proxy votes, and whether the con­sti­tu­tion should be al­tered to broaden the voter pool.

Well-known ty­coon U Win Aung has been pres­i­dent for the last five years and is the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s most prom­i­nent fig­ure. He won the 2013 elec­tion while still on the US sanc­tions black­list, from which he and two of his com­pa­nies were re­moved in 2015.

U Win Aung told The Myan­mar Times yes­ter­day that he is not nom­i­nat­ing him­self for pres­i­dent or any se­nior po­si­tions in the elec­tion. Mem­bers must nom­i­nate them­selves in or­der to be el­i­gi­ble for elec­tion. U Win Aung would not com­ment on why he had cho­sen not to stand, but said he would make a pub­lic an­nounce­ment on the mat­ter.

Much of the crit­i­cism in the run-up to elec­tion has been per­sonal in na­ture, in­clud­ing di­rect at­tacks on U Win Aung, which are not re­lated to the elec­toral process, said U Moe Myint Kyaw.

Com­ments fram­ing U Win Aung as a “crony” or con­cern­ing on his pri­vate in­ter­ests are not the con­cern of the UMFCCI, U Moe Myint Kyaw added. A 2007 US diplo­matic cable pub­lished by Wik­ileaks de­scribed U Win Aung as a “a regime crony” who had given fi­nan­cial sup­port to the for­mer mil­i­tary regime that stepped aside in 2011.

“What we see mostly is per­sonal at­tacks,” said U Moe Myint Kyaw, adding that as far as the UMFCCI is con­cerned the com­ments about U Win Aung are not an is­sue for his pres­i­dency, which he as­sumed and could po­ten­tially have re­tained through a trans­par­ent and demo­cratic process.

New blood Although UMFCCI of­fi­cials in­sist the elec­tion process will be demo­cratic, only around 600 or so mem­bers – out of around 15,000 ac­tive ones – are ex­pected to vote. Or­di­nary mem­bers elect around one-half of a 140-mem­ber of ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee (EC), with the other half made up of au­to­mat­i­cally ap­pointed rep­re­sen­ta­tives of var­i­ous busi­ness as­so­ci­a­tions.

Only mem­bers of the EC can elect a smaller cen­tral ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee (CEC), which in turn chooses a group of around 20 se­nior man­age­ment com­mit­tee mem­bers – this in­cludes one pres­i­dent and seven vice pres­i­dents.

But many UMFCCI mem­bers would also like to be able to elect the pres­i­dent, as would sev­eral sit­ting EC of­fi­cials. “Some of the ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee mem­bers want to be able to vote for se­nior po­si­tions like pres­i­dent and vi­cepres­i­dent,” said a mem­ber of the CEC, who asked to re­main anony­mous.

The call for more mem­bers to be able to vote for more po­si­tions stems in part from a de­sire for change, ac­cord­ing to se­nior fig­ures at the or­gan­i­sa­tion. “[The UMFCCI] needs new blood, new ideas,” said vice chair U Maung Maung Lay. “Most mem­bers yearn for change.”

Or­di­nary UMFCCI mem­ber U Nay Lin Zin said that it was im­por­tant for the coun­try’s most im­por­tant busi­ness body to have a “strong and ac­tive se­nior man­age­ment”, and that it would be bet­ter to have new and younger peo­ple with fresh ideas in se­nior po­si­tions.

Se­nior of­fi­cials are per­ceived to have vested busi­ness in­ter­ests that ben­e­fit from their ac­cess to for­eign del­e­ga­tions, he added. Sources at the UMFCCI said that other mem­bers, some of whom are rep­re­sen­ta­tives of in­dus­try as­so­ci­a­tions, were also ea­ger to see peo­ple in se­nior po­si­tions make way for some­one new.

A de­gree of change al­ready ap­pears guar­an­teed given U Win Aung’s de­ci­sion not to stand. When he won the 2013 elec­tion he had al­ready been pres­i­dent for two years, hav­ing been ap­pointed by the Min­istry of Com­merce. Be­cause the con­sti­tu­tion spec­i­fies a pres­i­dent can only sit for two con­sec­u­tive terms, this sparked a heated de­bate over whether U Win Aung should be al­lowed to run for an­other three-year term in Septem­ber,

U Khin Hlaing, a UMFCCI mem­ber who does not sit on ei­ther the EC or the CEC, said he had re­cently sent an of­fi­cial let­ter of com­plaint to the or­gan­i­sa­tion ar­gu­ing U Win Aung should not be el­i­gi­ble for an­other term.

U Aye Lwin, a sec­re­tary gen­eral at the UMFCCI, said that the pre­vi­ous two years U Win Aung spent as pres­i­dent un­der min­istry ap­point­ment be­fore the new con­sti­tu­tion came into force did not count as a term. How­ever, even though U Win Aung is only a “one-term pres­i­dent”, U Aye Lwin said that the pres­i­dent had de­cided not to stand again.

Prob­lems with prox­ies Still un­set­tled is a third wide­spread com­plaint around the rules on proxy vot­ing, which U Khin Hlaing also raised in his let­ter. The last UMFCCI elec­tion had only 600 or so vot­ers, and of­fi­cials ex­pect a sim­i­lar num­ber this time. Some say that a re­quire­ment forc­ing mem­bers to reg­is­ter to vote and cast their bal­lot at the body’s Yan­gon head­quar­ters helps keep turnout low.

Com­plaints about a short reg­is­tra­tion pe­riod have al­ready prompted two ex­ten­sions. The reg­is­tra­tion dead­line for vot­ing was orig­i­nally Au­gust 15 and now closes to­mor­row.

U Moe Myint Kyaw said that many mem­bers were sim­ply un­in­ter­ested in the elec­tion and the cham­ber, but hoped that mem­bers would be­come in­creas­ingly aware of how the UMFCCI is able to help the pri­vate sec­tor and that ex­er­cis­ing their right to vote in its man­age­ment was im­por­tant.

In­di­vid­ual mem­bers and NGOs are not al­lowed proxy votes at all. Reg­is­tered com­pa­nies – which have a com­pany mem­ber­ship with a sin­gle vote – are able to use prox­ies, but only spe­cific in­di­vid­u­als em­ployed at the firm such as di­rec­tors or man­agers. This typ­i­cally pro­vides only three or four po­ten­tial prox­ies, and many UMFCCI mem­bers want to be able to des­ig­nate their proxy at will.

The CEC is still locked in de­bate over this point. A ma­jor­ity of CEC mem­bers be­lieve that the con­sti­tu­tion is not suf­fi­ciently clear on proxy votes, and sup­port al­low­ing reg­is­tered com­pa­nies to as­sign any­one they like.

UMFCCI vice pres­i­dent U Thein Han said the point of proxy vot­ing was to make sure com­pa­nies do not lose their vote un­nec­es­sar­ily. “You can’t say it’s a free elec­tion if we strictly [in­ter­pret the rules] for prox­ies,” said U Hnin Oo, UMFCCI hon­or­able joint-au­di­tor.

But a mi­nor­ity of CEC mem­bers are firmly op­posed to the idea. U Aye Lwin said it would not be pos­si­ble to change the rules to al­low a free choice of prox­ies.

“Some com­pa­nies in Myan­mar have failed to ex­tend their li­cences and others have reg­is­tered but are not ac­tive,” he said. “We have to be very care­ful with those com­pa­nies and can’t let them give proxy au­thor­ity to any­body.”

The con­sti­tu­tion al­lows the CEC and an elec­tion com­mis­sion to re­solve dis­putes around the vot­ing process. A ma­jor­ity CEC vote would nor­mally be enough to set­tle a mat­ter, but be­cause a vo­cal mi­nor­ity be­lieve the con­sti­tu­tion is clear on proxy vot­ers the CEC has yet to find a so­lu­tion.

“Reach­ing con­sen­sus is a night­mare for the time be­ing,” said the CEC mem­ber that asked to re­main anony­mous.

U Aye Lwin said any­one want­ing to change any­thing in the ar­ti­cles of as­so­ci­a­tion or the con­sti­tu­tion will have to raise the mat­ter at the an­nual gen­eral meet­ing, which typ­i­cally takes place in Au­gust. Se­nior UMFCCI of­fi­cials said there was de­bate about call­ing an ex­tra­or­di­nary gen­eral meet­ing ahead of the elec­tion, but that there had not been enough time.

‘[The UMFCCI] needs new blood, new ideas. Most mem­bers yearn for change.’

U Maung Maung Lay UMFCCI vice chair

Photo: Aung Khant

U Hnin Oo, hon­or­able joint-au­di­tor, thinks rules around proxy vot­ing should be loos­ened.

Photo: Aung Htay Hlaing

U Win Aung, who said he will not seek re-elec­tion later this month, speaks at a busi­ness event in Yan­gon.

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