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“Please tell the president that now is the best time to start handling bribery and corruption cases.”
Published on Wednesday, 30 January 2013 20:53
Eleven Group Trading managing director Dr. U Thein Myint explains why a complaint was filed against the Customs Department at the Anti-Corruption Committee. The complaint calls on the committee to do what is necessary to end bribery and corruption at the department.
“Please tell the President. Now is the best time to start handling the bribery and corruption cases with most flexible ways and means on the path of the ongoing reform.”
Eleven Group Trading managing director Dr. U Thein Myint
Q: Please explain why Eleven Group Trading sent a complaint to the Anti-Corruption Committee.
A: We sent a letter of complaint to probe corruption cases against the director-general and directors of the Customs Department, the highest ranking officer at the agency. Over the years, the said department, which is under the Ministry of Finance and Revenue, has employed awful customs procedures and committed unbelievable corruption. This has triggering grievances to the public and sustaining heavy losses of revenue for the government. We believe it is necessary to change the existing questiobale procedures and system that breed graft. The reason we complained is to take action against senior officials who cling to and embrace the practice of bribery. We have no ill will towards the customs employees and do not seek to have them released form the service, sentenced to jail or have their lives ruined. However, it is necessary to take tough measures so that such corruption does not recur.
Q: Is there any other specific reason behind the complaint?
A: The Eleven Media Group and the Eleven Group Trading are affiliated companies. When our company dealt with the Customs Department we had bad experiences, and as a result we decided to file a complaint to the Anti-corruption Committee. We have plenty of documents and solid evidence in this case.
We have heard about nuisances, annoyances and anxiety felt by customers and companies, but no one stands up to complain and expose their suffering. When we faced this predicament, we decided to communicate with the anti-graft committee on behalf of the suffering people. Our main aim and purpose is to change the erratic, questionable system of the department. In the process of transforming the system, those officials that are not deemed fit with the fresh arrangement must be replaced. Dynamic officials compatible with a new mechanism should be assigned. Officials with civilian backgrounds (not from the military) should be given the task.
Q: We learnt that the Customs Department conducted a media briefing about their procedures on January 26. What were their explanations?
A: At that media briefing, Customs officials admitted that employees at all levels in the department shared as rewards the fines being levied from the import of merchandise, including vehicles. It was obvious that the existing Customs practices based on the law could be falsified and misinterpreted to put them on the track of bribery and corruption, according to their explanation. In the eyes of the public the Customs Department stands at the top in the chart for bribery and corruption. We are not referring in terms of cash amount, but its status for dealing with the international community and guarding the gateways of Myanmar.
Their unethical acts and irregular procedures will surely tarnish the image of the country. The existing by-laws of Customs seem to be correct in general terms. However, when we compare the customs value of Thailand and that of Myanmar’s department, then one will understand which department is wrong.
Q: You mentioned that you want to reform the existing system and at the same time you said you have no desire to sack employees, put them behind bars and wreck their lives. Why?
A: In the recent past, there were instances when action was taken against many customs employees. Some were sentenced to prison. Such severe actions should not have happened during this time of reform. This is not a time for drastic punishments by administering bitter medicine. Please tell the president that now is the best time to start handling bribery and corruption cases with most flexible ways and means on the ongoing reform path. Our goal is for this department to become an ideal agency, not to dismiss staff or place the employees in prison. Instead, we call for reform of an inconsistent system. Officials who are truly compatible with the new system should be assigned to the department.
Q: Do you believe that the government employees and bribery and corruption are inter-related?
A: There are many perspectives that we need to consider when looking at government employees. Their actual salaries, for example, cannot sustain them and against the backdrop of a rising cost of living this is pushing them to take bribes. In this regards, the government should re-consider the current wage and salary to solve the graft problem.
Given the current situation, a middle-ranking official would only have to have one million kyats to cover bills such as food, housing, travel costs, family expenses and schooling. The employees involved in the graft cases are backed by the directors and the director-general. Similarly, the super ministers are backing the directors and the director-general. I mean the super ministers are from the President Office. Through the involvement and intrigue of these super ministers, the president could become the victim of misunderstanding.
Although, the president could not have the information in full of these wrongdoings, the buck will stop at his desk and he himself will have to resolve the matters. The Ministry of Finance and Revenue is involved in the graft cases at the Customs Department, and the former minister of the said ministry is implicated one way or another, which is an undeniable fact. Parliament should probe this matter if necessary.
Q: What measures should be taken to wipe out the bribery and corruption?
A: The best way to eradicate bribery and corruption is to unlock the closed doors of the most corrupt departments and let media professionals walk in independently. Allow the media to have access freely at the port and harbors, The toll gates at the border areas, and the venues where the public have to deal directly with government employees. It would be really helpful to fight corruption cases.
Q: What are your views regarding media staff accepting bribes? What are the most essential aspects in fighting against the bribery and corruption?
A: There is an answer for the question regarding the taking of bribe by the media persons. No single voice and no single opinion could be heard from the Myanmar media in the events of wrong doing or misdemeanor. If someone did immoral thing, the media would be the first to make criticism and point out the mess. Media persons are not necessarily required to be united or be in cohesion. When the media persons are not united and not singing the same tune, then it is a very good thing. The media staff will never save each other and cover up the mistakes by citing that they are in the same boat. Only the government departments and government agencies may help each other in saving face as they are interrelated with each other. Therefore, give the media a chance to have access to the departments. We will be vigilant and watchful. Moreover, the professionals, experts and skilled persons such as economists should be consulted. The persons from different walks of life and the Republic of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Commerce and Industry should also lend a hand in fighting corruption. They know how to curb and control graft cases.
Q: What good will result from taking action against the Customs Department on bribery and corruption charges?
A: The Customs Department is notoriously known among the people as the most corrupt agency in successive governments. Now, the telecommunications department is under investigation for misappropriation of public funds. Not all the telecom employees are rich and living in luxury. However, the customs staff is different from others. The ratio of incomes and the assets owned by state employees is differs deeply.
This occurred due to wrong procedures in different eras of successive government, but the Customs Department remains the most corrupt agency. They are constituted in a mega and influential group. Their wrongful unity has been protected by the law. If the union government has the genuine desire to fight bribery and corruption, then the reform should start from the union government itself. Talking about departmental reform, the Customs Department must be the first selected to become an ideal agency. If and when that particular department, left untouched for many successive governments, could be reformed, then the incumbent government is stepping into victorious soil in the war against bribery and corruption. There is a Myanmar adage that goes, “hitting the head means hitting the whole”. When this department is handled systematically, then the mission starts to roll on the road of reform.