Need for transparency in scandal probe
The ugly head of corruption once more raised its head last week as the scandal over the Myanmar Gems and Jewellery Entrepreneurs Association broke. An embezzlement probe has been launched after nearly $100 million vanished from a fund set up by Myanmar’s gem companies. The fund, drawn from a one percent levy on profits from the multi-billion-dollar extractive trade, has $7.8 million left from a high of $104 million, according to the association.
The group, which includes major mining companies that dominate the country’s trade in jade, sapphires and rubies, say the fund was set up to help develop local gem markets and associations.
According to one Association member Kyaw Kyaw Oo, the group had no idea how the money was managed or where the money had gone. He also noted that during the term of the previous government there was no transparency and he hoped that the situation would change with the new NLD-led administration.
The whole industry has existed on a network of shady dealings, last year corruption watchdog Global Witness said Myanmar’s jade industry alone was worth an estimated $31 billion in 2014, with most profits going to powerful military and ex-junta figures instead of the state coffers. That estimated value would amount to almost half of the country’s GDP. Large amounts of jade are sold to China through illegal mines and in rebel-held areas, the report said.
Dr Myint Aung, former Union Minister of Mines, said in a press briefing addressing the charges that he would begin legal action against those who accused several former Union ministers under the previous government of embezzling funds and the move was an attempt to bring disgrace to his party and its reputation. U Ye Htut, the former Union minister for information, said the accusation of embezzlement was targeted at former president U Thein Sein as a personal attack.
The NLD has made it quite clear that it intends to fight corruption and has already taken some measures to address the situation. This latest scandal needs to be addressed as soon as possible and it is hoped that the probe by the Legal Affairs and Special Cases Assessment Commission will be a major step forward as the country moves towards genuine democracy.
If the NLD is serious about tackling corruption it must ensure that there is a transparent investigation into the management of Myanmar Gems and Jewellery Entrepreneurs Association funds. Once those responsible are identified it is essential that those abusing their office are held accountable and punished to the full extent of the law. Only then can we know there is real progress in the country and have faith in the mechanisms of government.