Need for trans­parency in scan­dal probe

Mizzima Business Weekly - - EDITORIAL -

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.

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