Two retired Tatmadaw generals now serving in top government posts have left their seats on a large military conglomerate’s board of directors, after the attorney general said their dual roles in the company and the government constituted an illegal conflict of interest.
Ni Aung, a former general, is the managing director of the Myanma Port Authority. Kyaw Htin, a former brigadier general, is Myanmar’s director general of customs.
Until July 6, both also sat on the board of directors of Myanma Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL) – a vast, military-owned conglomerate with interests in key sectors of the country’s economy, including imports and exports.
Zaw Htay, spokesperson for the president’s office, announced at a July 17 press conference that the attorney general found an illegal conflict between MEHL’s business interests and the men’s roles at the port authority and customs department.
The announcement marked a reversal from previous statements made by the attorney general’s office, which in June said there was no conflict of interest. It is now stating that the arrangement violates sections 10f and 37 of the 2013 Civil Services Personnel Law, according to Zaw Htay.
The attorney general’s office was not available for comment.
A spokesperson for the transport and communications ministry, under which the port authority operates, also said in June that Ni Aung’s dual roles constituted no conflict of interest.
Both men resigned from the MEHL board on July 6, according to Zaw Htay.
MEHL spokesperson Hla Myo told Myanmar Now the resignations will have no impact on how the company operates.
Myanmar Now first reported on the potential conflict of interest in May, when the joint-venture partner of an MEHL subsidiary that is building a $43m inland port in Yangon was listed on the Yangon Stock Exchange.
MEHL was initially set up by the military dictatorship in 1990 as a means of dominating large swaths of Myanmar’s domestic economy. It exports jade, rubies and precious metals and imports the petroleum used at Myawaddy petrol stations, among other good.
MEHL’s 56 subsidiaries operate in 14 industries, including mining, transportation and alcohol and cigarette production.
Previously, the company’s profits were split between two sets of shareholders: individual members of the military on the one hand and the defence ministry itself on the other.
In 2016, just before the civilian government assumed power, the company transferred all of its defence ministry shares to individual military members and regiments, diverting much of its revenue from a government ministry into private hands.
Kyaw Htin was appointed director general of the customs department in 2016 by then president Thein Sein, just before the National League for Democracy’s term began.
The rights group Justice for Myanmar welcomed the attorney general’s new decision but said it did not go far enough.
Kyaw Htin and Ni Aung “continue to hold shares in MEHL and are part of the Myanmar military’s patronage network that is spread through all parts of the state, providing top generals with immense power and influence,” the group’s spokesperson, Yadanar Aung, said. “They are the tip of the iceberg.”
As a public company with more than 100 employees, MEHL is legally required to disclose certain financial information, including its major shareholders.
It has yet to make this information public.