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Myanmar works to improve corruption image

Myanmar has fallen further in a global corruption ranking but could improve its image following some high-profile arrests this year and as the government moves to strengthen the anti-graft agency.

The Corruption Perceptions Index released by Transparency International ranked Myanmar 132 out of 180 territories in 2018, down two places from 2017. The Berlin-based global anti-corruption coalition gave the country a score of 29 – the same as Laos – on a scale from 0, highly corrupt, to 100, very clean. Myanmar scored 30 points in 2017.

Within ASEAN, only Cambodia is seen as more corrupt (ranked 161, with a score of 20).

“Corruption chips away at democracy to produce a vicious cycle, where corruption undermines democratic institutions and, in turn, weak institutions are less able to control corruption,” said Patricia Moreira, Transparency International managing director.

Commenting on the index, Ma Cherry Trivedi, Myanmar Institute of Directors (IoD) CEO, stressed that an important element in the fight against corruption was corporate governance.

“When board members exercise good judgment and support ethical behaviour, decisions are not made behind closed doors and decision-makers are held accountable for their actions,” she said. The IoD was set up last year to help Myanmar companies strengthen their boards and reinforce transparency and accountability.

Myanmar’s Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) needs to scale up its capacity to identify and investigate corruption cases, and in particular those cases involving foreign networks, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Tackling corruption is a priority of the government led by the National League for Democracy. The 2013 Anti-Corruption Law was amended last year (4th amendment) to empower the ACC, giving it authority to launch preliminary investigations into information received, such as indications of unusual wealth. Previously the ACC could only act on a complaint.

High-profile cases

The ACC is actively pursuing cases with its new authority. It filed cases against former director general of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) U Than Htut and ex-Tanintharyi chief minister Daw Lae Lae Maw. U Khaing Soe Hla, deputy director general of Nay Pyi Taw’s Veterinary and Abattoirs Department, was jailed in February for three years for accepting bribes.

Publicly taking action against senior figures for corruption is sending a strong signal to others that old habits need to change, according to the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business (MCRB).

U S’Ayar Win, executive director of the Myeik Lawyers Network, agreed: “This is good news in that the rule of law is being enforced.” But to convince local communities that the government is committed to the cause, the authorities need to continue to take on corrupt officials.

“The fight against graft needs to allow ordinary people to take part. Some of them dare not get involved in reporting powerful individuals but they need to speak up about the government departments who are crossing the line.”

MCRB head Vicky Bowman added there is more to be done to remove red tape and improve decision-making processes to reduce opportunities for corruption, such as more transparent procurement processes and reducing requirements for unnecessary permits.

“It was good, for example, to see that the final version of the Occupational Safety and Health Law only requires companies to register with the Labour Ministry, and not obtain a permit as in the earlier draft. And it’s very important for the government to change its attitude to investigative reporting, and encourage journalists rather than attempt to silence them,” she told The Myanmar Times.

Despite the progress, Myanmar’s legal framework currently does not include whistleblower protection for complaints made to the ACC. Troels Vester, UNODC Myanmar country manager, highlighted that the legal framework needs to change to cover whistleblower protection. While the penalty has been reduced with the latest amendment, the risk of being sued for defamation still deters whistleblowers from reporting.

There is still no criminal liability for offering bribes in Myanmar law, or regulations on political donations. The 2008 Constitution, which protects military officers from prosecution in civilian courts, also means that the military is immune from the ACC.

Getting businesses on board

The Directorate of Investment and Companies Administration (DICA) in January issued a notification drawing companies to an announcement from the ACC defining the fundamental principles for businesses on prevention of corruption. This required companies to set up mechanisms for employees to report suspected corrupt practices.

“The main issue is implementation on the principles, it is quite difficult to control and evaluate the concrete actions undertaken in complex industries to prevent corruption and fraud,” Mr Vester said. UNODC is engaging with the main domestic economic players to tackle this.

Another challenge for Myanmar is to build an overall system of corruption prevention, capable of addressing corruption in procurement as well as issues such as conflict of interest, trading in influence and abuse of authority.

The government announced the establishment of corruption prevention units within ministries in the Union and regional governments last December to clean up the bureaucracy. The ACC is training officials assigned to these units, according to ACC chair U Aung Kyi.

Source: Myanmar Times

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