Corruption in Myanmar: take down the real villains

Naing Ko Ko
Special to The Nation

Instead of focusing on low-salaried bureaucrats as the main cause of graft, advocates need to go after those at the very top of the centres of power

When I started to write about anti-corruption issues in Myanmar on the East Asia Forum, a number of scholars suggested that corruption in Myanmar is principally linked with low wages at governmental institutions. But the logic that the low salaries of public officials increases the amount of corruption does not work accurately in Myanmar. What about corruption among the state’s leadership? There are many factors which underpin corruption in Myanmar, such as the lack of a robust political system, weak governmental institutions, opportunity for corruption, monopolistic leadership mechanisms and a moral and value system based on corruption.


Whenever there is a power struggle among the elite generals who have ruled since 1962 in Myanmar, they accuse each other of corruption. After that, they boot each other out by using corruption as a reason. The members of the Myanmar Investment Commission were fired in 1999 and the ex-prime minister Khin Nyunt and his military intelligence officers were dumped in 2004. The fact is that Senior General Than Shwe is alleged to be the most corrupt general since the country gained independence. He created a legacy of corruption and decades of his authoritarian rule invented the military cronyism that is based on a commercial relationship between the generals and their cronies. Than Shwe and his ministers awarded special privileges to certain crony companies, which in return provided illegal money to the generals.

Due to economic sanctions by the western democracies, the junta needed foreign exchange and hard currency for overseas transactions and trade. The leading ministers accepted large sums in illegal contributions from cronies, who in return were given major state contracts by the military junta. The more the cronies increased their profits from these licences and contracts, the more financial and political power they had in shaping and/or influencing the country’s decision and policy-making mechanisms. Continue reading “Corruption in Myanmar: take down the real villains”