President U Win Myint uses carrot-and-stick with civil servants
State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (centre) participates in the traditional sprinkling of scented water during the Thingyan Water Festival at a pandal near the State Counsellor’s residence in Nay Pyi Taw on the festival’s final day Monday. Also taking part were other government leaders and their wives, including President U Win Myint, Vice President U Henry Van Thio, and Pyithu Hluttaw Speaker U T Khun Myat. Photo – EPA
Newly elected President U Win Myint has vowed to take care of the welfare of the country’s hundreds of thousands of civil servants but urged them to help the government in delivering efficient service to the public and help in the fight against corruption in the bureaucracy.
“Our government will be prioritising so that government employees will be able to live in their own house or apartment with dignity by the time they reach retirement,” said the new president in his Myanmar New Year speech to the people on Tuesday.
A Basic Education Primary School teacher hailed the announcement of civil servant housing by the president.
“This is the truth. When employees like us get a pension, the first thing we worry about is accommodations. It’s extremely difficult in this day and age to own a place with a yard on pension with bonus of over K2 million,” said the teacher from Pyinmana township, who will retire soon.
The current government constructed around 4627 civil servant housing units in each region and state within the last two years, and there are plans to build 7000 more housing units in the remaining three years. The units will be available to buy in monthly installments, the president said in his speech.
However, demand is difficult to estimate, as there is no data showing whether the total 10,000 housing units will be enough for the employees who will be retiring during the government’s five-year term.
Myanmar’s 2017 Civil Service Reform Strategic Action Plan stated that there were 900,000 civil servants in the central, regional and state governments.
“In reality, these things should be released. Only then will the citizens know if this [plan] will work,” U Khin Cho, Pyithu Hluttaw Public Account Committee member from Hlaing Bwe constituency, told The Myanmar Times.
Aside from housing, President U Win Myint also promised to raise the salary of the employees.
“The Union government has already made calculations and drawn up plans to increase the salaries of all clerical staff by 20 percent and that of all supervisors by 10pc,” he said.
Although when it will take effect was not specified, U Khin Cho said that the raise could start in April.
“It is not included in the budget submitted to the Hluttaw but it can be increased starting in April by submitting it again with the heading of “salary”, he said.
“It is not true that it can’t be done because it is not in the budget,” he said. As the Hluttaw cut more than K100 billion from the budget, this amount is the surplus and can be submitted under the heading ‘salary’, he said.
State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (left) and President U Win Myint celebrate the last day of the Thingyan festival in Nay Pyi Taw on Monday. Photo – EPA
One basic education school principal who gets K170,000 a month said that he wasn’t excited about the pay raise. “One bag of Manaw Thukha rice costs K36,000,” he said. A 20pc pay hike is only K34,000, which is not enough to buy even a bag of rice, so he is worried that raise may increase commodity prices, he said.
President U Win Myint said that as the government tries to improve the lot of state employees, it is their duty to help in reforming the bureaucracy.
“Since the Union government has made these arrangements for civil service personnel, they should be reminded that they also need to reciprocate by participating in the reform programmes of the Union government through cooperation and accepting responsibilities,” he said.
U Win Myint said that as the government is helping civil servants by raising salaries and arranging for housing, they should make more of an effort to give the public better service.
He said he would also take measures to stop corruption.
“In our efforts to combat corruption, which has become customary and has taken root in most departments with increased intensity, it will be necessary to review the rights and responsibilities of government staff to ensure that there is a proper balance. Each department will have to take responsibility and action,” President U Win Myint said.
He said the reforms will begin from below, close to the people.
“In places where there is a mismatch in the reform process, we will need to bring in people who are qualified and can work expeditiously, if necessary,” he said.
Moreover, he pledged that the judiciary will be improved in accordance with the law.
Other matters discussed in the president’s speech included electricity supply, road and bridge construction, measures against human rights violations, human rights protection, anti-drug measures, returning confiscated land and education.
How much the president can deliver on his promises in the next three years will be something to watch for.
“I hope he can act on his words and keep his promises. If it is for the good of the people, we will support him,” said U Win Oo, a former MP for Yay Phyu township in Tanintharyi Region who is from the opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party.