Presidential ‘advisors’ raise eyebrows

A new advisory board nominated by Burmese President Thein Sein has raised eyebrows with the inclusion of U Myint, a known political moderate and friend of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

U Myint, a former senior economist with the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (UNESCAP), will head the advisory board’s economic section, which is completed by Sett Aung and Dr Tin Hla Bo. Two other appointees will oversee the political and legal wings.

The 73-year-old is an unlikely candidate for the position: in a December 2009 report he stated that Burma’s economic stagnation was “disturbing”, and that Burmese people may “have become more interested in the next life than in the present one” – a rare public criticism of the regime’s woeful economic track record.

A former Rangoon University professor, he is also a member of the Myanmar Academy of Arts and Science and often conducts seminars and lectures on the domestic economy. He has lived abroad for significant periods and was known for having connections with the exiled political community.

But both U Myint and his brother, U Aye, a former ambassador, served as diplomats under the first dictatorship of Ne Win.

The political advisory board will be led by Ko Ko Hlaing, a consultant for the Ministry of Information’s News and Periodicals Enterprise. Supporting him will be Dr Nay Zin Latt and Ye Tint.

Nay Zin Latt told DVB yesterday that the creation of such boards meant “we can assume they [the new government] really has a wish to solve problems positively”, noting that their creation was a first for a Burmese government.

Ko Ko Hlaing however will broadly reflect his boss, Thein Sein, in terms of political alignment. He first enrolled in the Defence Services Academy in 1973 before becoming a gazetted officer in 1977. He became a consultant for the military’s News and Periodicals Enterprise, the government’s media or propaganda wing, in 2004, a position which he still holds.

The legal advisory board is led by the former police colonel, Sit Aye, who will be joined by Daw Khin Myo Myint and Than Kyaw. Sit Aye is a graduate of the Police Officer Intake-1 and also holds a law degree. Sit Aye has had a prestigious career since, working as joint-secretary for the Ministry of Home Affairs’ Working Committee on Trafficking in Persons and heading the Financial Intelligence Unit. He has also directed the Transnational Organised Crime unit and served as a member of the Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control.

Questions may be asked however about how untainted his advice will be. Burma has been condemned on the raft of political, legal and economic policy it has created, with international bodies noting that the country has and is currently seen as a source for human trafficking, drug production, trafficking and money laundering, and fraud.

More advisory boards are expected to be formed for different sectors such as the environment, education and health.

Critics will maintain that U Myint’s advice has been on offer for much of his career, but like other economic luminaries such as Joseph Stiglitz, who visited the country in December 2009, it has been wilful rejected.

Whilst Nay Zin Latt’s optimism will be shared by many, what is more pressing is the raft of essential areas that the president has cornered away from parliamentary oversight, such as use of the country’s resources.

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