Rakhine development scheme with deep links to NLD raises transparency concerns

A company with multiple ties to Myanmar’s ruling party is still actively engaged in efforts to develop beach resorts in southern Rakhine state, despite claims from members of its board of directors that it was dissolved last year. 

The Rakhine Coastline Development Public Company (RCDPC) officially ceased operations more than a year ago, but has since gone back into business, according to the records of the Directorate of Investment and Company Administration (DICA).

The company was chaired by Ye Min Oo, a rising star in the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD), until September 2019. DICA records show that it was reincorporated the following month and is now chaired by Ye Min Oo’s wife, Aye Nandar Sein, who has also replaced him at the head of a number of other companies that he has left since late last year. 

Ye Min Oo, who currently serves as Yangon region’s minister for planning and finance, was elected to public office for the first time last month, when he won a seat in the Yangon regional parliament. He is also the chair of the Naypyitaw Sibin Bank and deputy mayor of Naypyitaw. 

“Ye Min Oo has a strong interest in this project,” said RCDPC board member and NLD MP Ye Khaung Nyunt 

RCDPC, which was founded by Ye Min Oo in April 2018, also has links to three other NLD lawmakers. 

Its board of directors includes Ye Khaung Nyunt, the Pyithu Hluttaw MP for Gwa township in Rakhine state; Khin Moe Aye, the wife of Bo Bo Oo, the Pyithu Hluttaw MP for Sanchaung township in Yangon region; and Thin July Kyaw, the ex-wife of Phyo Zeyar Thaw, the Pyithu Hluttaw MP for Zabuthiri township in Naypyitaw.

Other board members include Amara Aung, the daughter of Hla Kyaing, the NLD chair for Yangon region; Myat Tun, a former assistant editor from the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB); and Nyi Naing Aung, a former political prisoner who works for the Jasmine Palace Construction Group.

The company also has a close business associate of Ye Min Oo, Innovative Systems (InnoSys) owner Ni Lynn, as its managing director, according to DICA records.

Other board members include local businessmen Win Ko, Pyae Phyo Paing and Lin Htike from Gwa township in southern Rakhine state.

“If [the RCDPC] really gets off the ground, our party will get votes for the next five years,” said board member Khin Moe Aye, who is also the chair of the NLD’s women’s working committee in Yangon region 

RCDPC board member Ye Khaung Nyunt told Myanmar Now that the company was set up by Ye Min Oo to develop a hotel zone on the 36-acre Zee Gone ground near Kantharyar beach in Gwa township. Besides representing the township in the Pyithu Hluttaw, Ye Khaung Nyunt is also a member of its local NLD central executive committee.

“Ye Min Oo has a strong interest in this project. When he presented a proposal to the state government, they told him it would be possible if he set up a public company in collaboration with local people,” said Ye Khaung Nyunt. 

He added, however, that Ye Min Oo did not reapply to continue work on the project after he became the chair of the Naypyitaw Sibin Bank and the deputy mayor of Naypyitaw early last year. 

The situation has raised concerns about conflicts of interest, as MPs and their close associates, including spouses and other family members, engage in business activities that are subject to government oversight and which may benefit from political connections.

‘Are they honest in what they do?’

Khin Moe Aye, the wife of MP Bo Bo Oo and a director of the RCDPC, said that the company was set up soon after Nyi Pu, the Rakhine state chief minister, asked her husband for help finding entrepreneurs to undertake a development project in his state.

“Frankly speaking, I want to help Uncle Nyi. This state still hasn’t had much development. If they can show this project, it may encourage further development. And if it really gets off the ground, our party will get votes for the next five years,” said Khin Moe Aye, who is also the chair of the NLD’s women’s working committee in Yangon region.

“It’s not good because it makes NLD forces looks like a business group,” said an MP who spoke to Myanmar Now on condition of anonymity 

However, when Win Myint, the state’s minister for municipal affairs, and Kyaw Aye Thein, the minister for planning, finance, tax and economy, were asked if the RCDPC was established at the behest of the chief minister, they said they didn’t know the company.

One MP who is close to Nyi Pu said that Ye Min Oo had often offered to turn the Zee Gone ground into a resort area and fix up the Ngapali market, which had been neglected due to a lack of interest in investing in Rakhine state. However, Ye Min Oo was not able to follow through with his plans, he said, leaving the state in a difficult position.

The MP, who did not want to be identified by name, added that only Ye Min Oo had been considered for the resort scheme, because of his economic background. He also said that he would inform the party of fellow NLD members’ involvement in the project because he felt it hurt the party’s image.

“It’s not good because it makes NLD forces looks like a business group. Is it true that they are honest in what they do? It isn’t good for the public to hear about things like this,” the MP said.

Tangled ties

According to RCDPC board member Thin July Kyaw (the ex-wife of NLD Pyithu Hluttaw MP Phyo Zeyar Thaw), Ye Min Oo sought help setting up a public company that would create job opportunities for local people and offer shares at an affordable price. To get this venture started, she said, she brought in close friends as partners.

So far, she added, Ye Min Oo has not made any money off of the company, despite initial share prices being fixed at 1mn kyat ($742) apiece. (Once the company was up and running, she said, shares would be offered to local people for a few tens of thousands of kyat each.)

But that was before the board of directors dissolved the company, only to restart it in October 2019 with Ye Min Oo’s wife Aye Nandar Sein as the new chair.

Throughout his business career, Ye Min Oo has had a history of distancing himself from companies that he either started or has been closely associated with, even as he has maintained ties with them.

“The main thing is for the ruling party to figure out how to prevent conflicts of interest,” Ye Lin Myint, the national coordinator of the Myanmar Alliance for Transparency and Accountability 

In 2014, a year after he became a member of the NLD’s information committee, he resigned as managing director of Asia Green Development (AGD) Bank, owned by military crony Tay Za. Despite his departure from the bank, he remains close to Tay Za’s Htoo Group, a number of whose senior executives sit on the boards of companies founded by Ye Min Oo. 

It was also in 2014 that he started Grand National Capital (GNC), a company set up to serve as a subcontractor for Min Kyan Sit, a construction firm owned by Nandar Hla Myint, a senior member of the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). This was after Min Kyan Sit had received a contract under the then USDP government to build the publicly-funded Aye Tharyar housing project in Shan state.

Illustration: (Moe Htet Lyan / Myanmar Now)

Despite receiving a 4bn-kyat loan from the Shan state government, however, Min Kyan Sit failed to complete the project. GNC later took over, but was also unable to finish the job. The company now owes Shan state 2.4bn-kyat ($1.78mn).

Nay Lin, the Shan state cabinet secretary, told Myanmar Now that Ye Min Oo personally attended a meeting called by the state government in April of this year to negotiate repayment of money borrowed in connection with the Aye Tharyar project. This is despite the fact that he resigned from GNC’s board of directors in September 2019—the same month he stepped down as chair of RCDPC. His wife, Aye Nandar Sein, currently serves as its managing director. 

During that meeting, the company agreed to repay its debt within 60 days. So far, however, it has yet to do so.

Conflict concerns

Despite his business troubles, Ye Min Oo has seen a steady rise in his political fortunes under the NLD. He has been a member of the party’s economic committee since 2016, and in June of this year he was appointed to serve as Yangon region’s minister for finance and planning. Now, after running as an NLD candidate in last month’s election, he is set to assume duties as an elected representative in the region’s legislature.

Transparency watchdogs say that Ye Min Oo’s demonstrated penchant for mixing business and political connections is rife with potential problems.

“Such cases need to be monitored and investigated by both the government and the Anti-Corruption Commission,” said political analyst Dr Yan Myo Thein 

Ye Lin Myint, the national coordinator of the Myanmar Alliance for Transparency and Accountability (MATA), said that international companies could play a role in pointing out how having a large number of ruling party MPs and other party members in a company could lead to conflicts of interest. 

“The main thing is for the ruling party to figure out how to prevent conflicts of interest. The principles and procedures must be transparent,” he told Myanmar Now.

NLD spokesperson Dr Myo Nyunt defended the right of party members and their families to set up companies and run businesses, but added that it would be illegal for them to take advantage of their political position when applying for projects.

“If you think you have special privileges, it is a conflict of interest,” he said, before adding that he thought it was “doubtful” that such situations would arise among party members.

Political analyst Dr Yan Myo Thein took a less trusting view, insisting that MPs involved in private business ventures should be subjected to careful scrutiny.

“Such cases need to be monitored and investigated by both the government and the Anti-Corruption Commission. If people close to the ruling party and the authorities set up companies and operate in an improper way, it means they are taking advantage of their positions,” he said.

In an interview with Myanmar Now earlier this year, Aung Kyi, the chair of the Anti-Corruption Commission, said that conflicts of interest do not constitute actual cases of corruption, but were a very serious problem because they could easily lead to abuses of power.

Myanmar Now contacted Ye Min Oo for comment, but did not receive a reply. 

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