Home Affairs backtracks
An announcement that five departments would be brought under civilian control was minsunderstood, the ministry has alleged.
JUST one month after the Ministry of Home Affairs was heralded for opening up five departments to civilian control, it has swiftly backpeddled on the offer, issuing a “clarification letter”.
A permanent secretary at the ministry said the decision was not a reversal of previously announced policy, but rather a clarification of a “wrongly interpreted” order.
A spokesperson for the ministry told The Myanmar Times yesterday that the five departments will stay firmly lodged under the umbrella of Home Affairs and, by extension, the military.
“We are just acting in line with the constitutional provisions,” said U Maung Maung Myint, assistant permanent secretary at the home affairs ministry.
In an official letter issued at the end of August to state and region chief ministers, Lieutenant General Kyaw Swe, minister for home affairs, had said the local governments could take over managing the police, the Bureau of Special Investigations, the Fire Service Department, the Prison Department and the General Administration Department (GAD).
Political analysts and international observers have long argued that in order to facilitate genuine local democracy, the administration of such departments needs to be decentralised and brought under civilian management.
But housing GAD within the military-led Ministry of Home Affairs with a mandate to oversee local, townshiplevel administration served as an important pillar of the junta’s “disciplineflourishing democracy”.
The five departments, with their top-to-bottom hierarchical structures, have long been subject to criticisms for an ingrained system of bribery and corruption. Most of the senior management officials at the departments were cherry-picked from the Defence Services.
U Maung Maung Myint defended the ministry’s newly released letter as a necessary clarification of the first missive sent to the chief ministers in August.
“I think the first letter was at that time misinterpreted to mean that the administration of those departments was being transferred to the chief ministers. That is not correct,” he said.
He added that the ministry will continue overseeing all of its departments in the states and regions, but is inviting chief ministers to better cooperate and coordinate, as per the 2008 military-drafted constitution.
However, the constitution seems to contradict the permanent secretary’s explanation as to who is tasked with managing the departments.
Provision 260 says, “The head of the General Administration Department of the region or state is the exofficio secretary of the region or state government concerned. Moreover, the General Administration Department of the region or state is housed within the office of the region or state government concerned.”
Section 256 of the 2008 charter says that the state and regional governments must manage, guide, supervise and inspect the departments of the ministries so that they follow the constitutional provisions and existing laws.
Upper house MP U Htay Oo (NLD; Yangon 2) said there was no doubting that Home Affairs had changed its mind since last month. He attributed the reversal to retribution for the military’s recent defeats in parliament.
The ruling National League for Democracy and military lawmakers have recently sparred over several pieces of legislation that deal with local governance. But the NLD-dominated parliament has overwhelmed the vote, including in favour of amending the Ward and Village Tract Administration Law – especially on the point of removing an overnight guest registration requirement – and scrapping the Emergency Provisions Act.
“We supported abolishing [the guest registration stipulation], whereas the military opposed abolishing it. I think these events [amending the laws and backtracking on the department management] are connected,” said U Htay Oo. “That’s why they are drawing back their previous decision.”
Military MPs had also opposed the NLD on a personal freedom and security bill, which outlaws surveillance that could impact civilians’ personal freedoms and dignity, and which last week passed the lower house. Military MPs had argued that the security of the state should be given priority over personal freedoms.