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Burmese President Thein Sein urged officials on Wednesday to eliminate the endemic corruption that plagues the country’s civic sector during the remainder of his presidential term, state-run media reported this week.
According to Mynama Ahlin on Thursday, Thein Sein called for an end to “chronic bribery and corruption in the civil service sector” during his opening address to representatives of the union government at a quarterly meeting in Naypyidaw.
According to a UN-commissioned survey, corruption is a top concern for businesses and foreign investors in Burma, with over 20 percent of 3,000 firms surveyed saying that corruption is a “very severe obstacle” to their operations. About half of the firms said that they paid $500 in extra “facilitation fees”, while a dozen said extra fees exceeded $10,000.
Khin Maung Swe, the National Democratic Force Party’s chairman, said that getting rid of bribes or taking action against corrupt civil servants are not the only actions needed to fully stem corruption – and even that would be impossible to do within a single year.
“It is probably not possible to completely eradicate corruption within a mere one year of President Thein Sein’s remaining term,” Khin Maung Swe said. “Civil servants are taking bribes, not because they love money, but because the whole socioeconomic structure collapsed during the dictatorial military rule, and they are unable to rebuild their livelihoods through honest means.”
He pointed at rising inflation and increased cost of living as factors that the government seems unable to get a handle on. This all contributes to the corrupt motivations of low-paid civil servants, he said.
“Even if the civil servants are paid a sufficient salary, the government cannot put a cap on rising commodity and land prices,” Khim Maung Swe said. “Moreover, there are issues with land price hikes, the inability to increase manufacturing, a lack of legal protection, transportation woes, an absence of crop insurance, and joblessness.
“Around eight million people are unemployed, and I think it would be a bit too ambitious for U Thein Sein’s government to eradicate bribery within a short time as it is connected to all other issues.”
Social issues, such as land confiscations and homelessness, were also themes in Thein Sein’s speech. The president called on the government to fast-track solutions to the homeless issue by implementing affordable housing projects in more cities besides Rangoon and Mandalay.
He also disavowed responsibility for the land confiscation the country suffers from, which he said was perpetrated by the previous military regime and that his administration is attempting to resolve.
Upper House member Phone Myint Aung said that Thein Sein’s remarks did not reflect reality, and did not directly address the real obstacles plaguing the development of low-cost housing projects. As the majority of land is now owned by military generals of the former regime, or to people linked to them in some way, large sums of money must be provided in order for any project to get off the ground.
“The cause of the real estate price hike in Burma is because the majority of land is owned by military generals of the former government. One has to please them – for example, by paying enough money to get permission to construct a building,” said Phone Myint Aung. “So with a situation like this, there is no chance the real estate prices will ever go down.
“There is basically no opportunity for anyone to develop a low-cost housing project now because the land is not owned by the country, but has already been distributed to the children of powerful figures.”
Tun Myint Aung, farmland coordinator for 88 Generation Peace and Open Society group – a pro-democracy group formed by the students who were behind the 1988 uprising — criticised Thein Sein for pushing off the blame for rampant land confiscations to the previous regime, saying that Thein Sein’s role and the people in the higher echelons of his administration are implicated.
“They are basically the same people from SPDC and SLORC governments and so, they should accept responsibility for the issues and they shouldn’t try to dodge it by saying it happened in the past,” Tun Myint Aung said. “If it was unjust in the past, then they should try to change it during this democratic transition, bring about justice, and see that the people’s interests are addressed.
“Otherwise, they will not be regarded as a ‘clean government’ that represents and works in the interests of its people.”