Deputy min­is­ter axed

The first ma­jor cabi­net shake-up since Pres­i­dent U Htin Kyaw’s ad­min­is­tra­tion took power has prompted ques­tions about the con­sti­tu­tion­ally man­dated di­vide be­tween party pol­i­tics and gov­ern­ment af­fairs.

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - EI EI TOE LWIN eieitoel­win@mm­times.com

THE pres­i­dent has axed a deputy min­is­ter, the first cabi­net ter­mi­na­tion to oc­cur since the Na­tional League for Democ­racy-led gov­ern­ment took of­fice at the end of March.

The dis­missal, made with­out of­fi­cial ex­pla­na­tion, has raised eye­brows, es­pe­cially over con­sti­tu­tion­ally en­shrined di­vi­sions be­tween party pol­i­tics and gov­ern­ment af­fairs. The ousted of­fi­cial’s own ac­count has shed light on the frus­trat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence of a well-in­ten­tioned bu­reau­crat mired in red tape amid the demo­crat­i­cally elected ad­min­is­tra­tion’s bid to lib­er­alise gov­er­nance.

The pres­i­dent an­nounced the ter­mi­na­tion of deputy min­is­ter for agri­cul­ture, live­stock and ir­ri­ga­tion U Tun Win on Novem­ber 18. No spe­cific rea­son was given, but the an­nounce­ment noted the de­ci­sion was made in line with sec­tion 235 of the con­sti­tu­tion. Ac­cord­ing to sub-sec­tion (c), the pres­i­dent can ter­mi­nate any Union min­is­ter or deputy min­is­ter who fails to ef­fec­tively ful­fill or com­ply with their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

Speak­ing to re­porters in Nay Pyi Taw over the week­end, U Tun Win railed against his fir­ing. The ex-deputy said he and his min­is­ter had se­ri­ous dis­agree­ments about agri­cul­ture poli­cies and the need to fast-track wide­spread changes to the sec­tor.

One of their feuds in­volved wa­ter distri­bu­tion from the Yesin dam in Py­in­mana town­ship to sup­port paddy grow­ing. An­other was prompted by the sug­ges­tion of creat­ing fish farms in dams. And they also fought over a river pump sys­tem pro­posed in the Aye­yarwaddy delta to pro­duce more crops, said U Tun Win, who be­fore his min­is­te­rial ap­point­ment was an agri­cul­ture ex­pert work­ing for the Myan­mar Rice In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion.

“He said [the pro­pos­als] were im­pos­si­ble. But I re­fused to ac­cept this,” said U Tun Win.

Monthly meet­ings be­came heated spar­ring ses­sions.

“I an­grily told the min­is­ter, ‘You have four months’ ex­pe­ri­ence in the agri­cul­ture sec­tor, but I have over 40 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence,’” U Tun Win said. “It is time for the new gov­ern­ment to de­liver on its prom­ises of change for the sake of farm­ers and job­less peo­ple who have suf­fered for so long.”

The heated ex­changes ap­pear to have grated on Min­is­ter U Aung Thu. De­spite of­fer­ing an apol­ogy, U Tun Win be­lieves the out­bursts con­trib­uted to his sack­ing.

And then there was the con­tentious is­sue of state-owned gar­dens in Heho, Shan State.

Un­der the junta, it was not un­com­mon for state-owned land to be par­celled off to pri­vate in­vestors with 50-year con­tracts. Heho’s gar­dens were among the plots out­sourced to a pri­vate com­pany.

U Tun Win pro­posed tak­ing back state-owned land, es­pe­cially the plots that had not been utilised for years. But the agri­cul­ture min­is­ter re­jected the sug­ges­tion, adding that it was a “sen­si­tive is­sue”.

Act­ing with­out the sup­port or knowl­edge of his boss, U Tun Win re­quested the com­pany in­volved in the Heho gar­dens vol­un­tar­ily re­turn the land. The man­ager al­legedly re­fused as the com­pany had in­vested US$8 mil­lion in the plots.

One week later, NLD se­nior mem­bers lead by cen­tral ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee mem­ber U Win Htein vis­ited U Tun Win at his home.

“When I told them I de­fended the gar­den for the sake of coun­try, they left im­me­di­ately,” U Tun Win said.

The fol­low­ing week, the deputy min­is­ter was asked to come to Se­bin guest house in Nay Pyi Taw, the civil ser­vants’ quar­ters. U Tun Win said he was met by U Myo Aung, the Nay Pyi Taw Coun­cil chair, and U Win Htein, and they pro­ceeded to ask for his res­ig­na­tion.

“I re­fused to re­sign as they were not giv­ing me any rea­son to do so … I re­ceived two phone calls [from U Win Htein]. When I asked him what was wrong with my ser­vice, he did not say any­thing. He just re­peated the de­mand that I re­sign,” U Tun Win said. He added that he be­lieved he had car­ried out his re­spon­si­bil­i­ties prop­erly, keep­ing in mind the needs of the coun­try and the peo­ple.

On Novem­ber 17, an of­fi­cial from the Pres­i­dent’s Of­fice gave U Tun Win an ul­ti­ma­tum: re­sign, or be fired for “fail­ure to co­op­er­ate”. U Tun Win said he was told if he re­signed as re­quested he would be guar­an­teed a pen­sion and other ben­e­fits avail­able to civil ser­vants. If he re­fused, he would get noth­ing.

“I told him I did not come [to Nay Pyi Taw] for the pen­sion. I came to work for the truth,” U Tun Win said.

The next morn­ing’s an­nounce­ment of the ter­mi­na­tion or­der nev­er­the­less sur­prised U Tun Win.

“I am won­der­ing whether democ­racy has fallen silent in our coun­try, and whether the right side is los­ing,” U Tun Win said, adding that he was never pre­sented with a de­scrip­tion of his wrong­do­ings, nor a chance to de­fend his work.

The public an­nounce­ment spurred con­cern among the public and among MPs who ques­tioned the way the fir­ing was han­dled, and why se­nior party mem­bers were car­ry­ing out gov­ern­ment rep­ri­mands.

Over the week­end, NLD MP Daw Khin Moh Moh Aung sent an open let­ter to Pres­i­dent U Htin Kyaw call­ing on him to share the rea­sons for the dis­missal.

How­ever, Pres­i­dent’s Of­fice spokesper­son U Zaw Htay told The Myan­mar Times there are no plan to re­lease fur­ther in­for­ma­tion about the fir­ing.

“The gov­ern­ment must reshuf­fle ministers or deputy ministers due to var­i­ous rea­sons. We have no obli­ga­tion to re­lease more in­for­ma­tion about it be­cause it is re­lated with in­ter­nal gov­ern­ment af­fairs, and we must re­spect the dig­nity of the [ter­mi­nated] per­son,” he said.

When asked why the NLD’s party mem­bers were in­ter­ven­ing in gov­ern­ment af­fairs, U Zaw Htay said he could not an­swer on be­half of the rul­ing party.

Yes­ter­day, The Myan­mar Times vis­ited Se­bin guest house to ask for U Win Htein’s side of the story. He re­fused to com­ment on the case, al­leg­ing he had “noth­ing to say”.

U Soe Tun, deputy chair of the Myan­mar Rice Fed­er­a­tion, said, “I was so sad for Dr Tun Win, but I don’t want to give any com­ment about it, as I don’t know ex­actly what hap­pened.”

In­de­pen­dent po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst U Yan Myo Thein crit­i­cised the NLD mem­bers’ in­volve­ment in the deputy min­is­ter’s can­ning, and said it raised ques­tions about demo­cratic prac­tices.

“The con­sti­tu­tion is very clear that po­lit­i­cal par­ties must not be in­volved in gov­ern­ment af­fairs. I think the NLD and its leader should re­spect the con­sti­tu­tion. Also, the party should es­tab­lish a clear line be­tween party af­fairs, and gov­ern­ment busi­ness, to pre­vent such prob­lems from aris­ing again in the fu­ture,” he said.

U Yan Myo Thein also said the gov­ern­ment should be more trans­par­ent about cabi­net shake-ups than its pre­de­ces­sor. “We un­der­stand the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment did not re­lease any in­for­ma­tion about the ter­mi­na­tion of ministers, or share the changes in a trans­par­ent way. But we want to change that. That’s why peo­ple voted for the NLD, so that things wouldn’t fol­low the same meth­ods,” he added.

– Ad­di­tional re­port­ing by Htoo Thant

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