NLD leader’s next challenge: the bureaucracy

Staff in the four ministries soon to come under Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s management have welcomed her appointment, telling The Myanmar Times they hope she can accelerate administrative reforms in the civil service. But analysts and insiders have cautioned that she will face myriad challenges in cleaning up the bureaucracy and upholding promises of clean government.

On March 22, President-elect U Htin Kyaw revealed the identities of 18 ministers in his cabinet, but did not specify their portfolios.

The Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, or Union Parliament, is today expected to approve his cabinet, which includes six National League for Democracy parliamentarians, six technocrats, three military MPs, two representatives of the Union Solidarity and Development Party and one Mon National Party member.

But attention is focused on NLD leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, 70, who party officials have confirmed will take charge of four ministries: Foreign Affairs, President’s Office, Education, and Energy and Electric Power.

Political analysts said yesterday that the Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has taken these ministries because they are considered among the most important, for a variety of reasons. Some have clear challenges ahead of them, while others put her closer to U Htin Kyaw, the military and the levers of executive power.

Questions have, however, been raised over whether she can handle the workload. The NLD has not committed to appointing deputy ministers as part of its superficial attempts to trim the budget deficit.

Analyst U Yan Myo Thein said he expected Daw Aung San Suu Kyi would seek to resolve key challenges in the energy and electric power and education portfolios – public concern over the Myitsone dam and natural gas pipelines, and resistance to the National Education Law – before delegating responsibility.

Over the longer term, she would focus mostly on foreign affairs and the President’s Office, he said.

“I think these four positions will pose very big challenges,” he said. “Later I think she will appoint deputies to handle education, and energy and electric power.”

She can anticipate a warm welcome when she takes up her posts on April 1 but will also face the burden of high expectations.

One official in the Ministry of Electric Power, which will be merged with the Ministry of Energy, told The Myanmar Times that he had been disappointed at the corruption he had experienced since transferring into the civil service from the military eight years ago.

“The high-ranking officials rule in the ministry as if it’s all their own property,” he said. “I want the NLD to end this chronic illness of corruption and misuse of power.”

The former major said he was also upset at the poor management of other former military personnel within the ministry, but was hopeful for the future.

“I think the NLD government has to make a long-term plan focused on connecting with the international community so we can gain new technologies.”

The response from U Htay Aung, a former colonel now serving as deputy permanent secretary in the Ministry of Energy, was more subdued. He said he expected few changes or difficulties from the transition to the new government, either as a result of either Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s leadership or the merger of the electric power and energy ministries.

“We are just government staff so our duty is to implement the policy of the new government,” he said.

In the Ministry of Education, some staff told The Myanmar Times that they expected Daw Aung San Suu Kyi would make their jobs “easier” by ensuring the right people were in positions of responsibility.

More generally, they were excited that she had decided to lead the ministry.

U Aye Khaing, a retired director of primary education in Yangon, summed up the sentiment by saying, “We’ve hoped for a long time to have Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as our leader, so to have her taking personal responsibility for education is a big prize for us.”

Under her leadership the role of the President’s Office is likely to change. It is currently home to six ministers and as a result considered six different ministries.

U Zaw Htay, a director in the President’s Office and unofficial government spokesperson, said the shrinking of the ministry would need to be accompanied by a delegation of authority to other ministers.

He said the President’s Office initially had two ministers, and U Thein Sein delegated many decisions to others in his cabinet. He established a policy of forgiving “good mistakes” that were made without his knowledge – until a series of incidents involving “inappropriate” behaviour occurred.

In response, he centralised power in the President’s Office by expanding it to include the so-called “super ministers”: U Soe Thein, U Aung Min, U Hla Tun and U Tin Naing Thein.

U Zaw Htay said the past five years had highlighted the difficulty of uplifting standards in the bureaucracy.

“Carrying out administrative reform is extremely complicated,” he said. “The NLD will face difficulties monitoring activities to uphold its promise of clean government.”

 

Source: Myanmar Times

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