Tue 19 Mar 2013
Filed under: News
The Myanmar Peace Center is facing mounting calls for it to publicly release its financial records, following a rumour that a center director receives an annual salary of US$120,000, but center staff said they have no authority to do so.
“We are mainly responsible for office work,” Kyaw Soe Hlaing, an administrative worker at the peace center told Eleven Media, directing further questions to presidential spokesman Ye Htut. “We have no authority to [release financial information]. We individual staff don’t have the authority as peace processes are arranged by the President’s Office,” he said.
Staff at Ye Htut’s office said they could not reply to questions from Eleven Media because he was accompanying President Thein Sein on a foreign trip.
Calls for financial transparency were sparked by a rumour on social media that a director at the center earns US$120,000 a year.
Although the director flatly denied the Facebook rumour, several leaders of armed ethnic groups as well as political analysts subsequently called on the center to disclose how much funding it receives and how this money is spent.
HOW MUCH MONEY?
EU President José Manuel Barroso announced US$900,000 in initial funding and $38.5million more this year for the Myanmar Peace Center at its opening last November. The center, which was established by an order of the president, also receives funding from Norway.
Myanmar’s peace process is, for the most part, funded by international donors. Two main donor groups, the Peace Donor Support Group and the Myanmar Peace Support Initiative, channel funds from western and international agencies into the peace process. Both are led by the Norwegian government, with the Peace Support Initiative focused on coordinating aid. Japan’s Nippon Foundation also funds the peace process.
The Peace Donor Support Group comprises Australia, Britain, the EU, the United Nations and the World Bank. It pledged $30 million in aid for Myanmar’s peace efforts last June. The Myanmar Peace Support Initiative will reportedly provide more than $70 million.
The Nippon Foundation contributed more than $300 million to refugees in Kachin and Kayin states through the Myanmar Peace Center last year. It also provides funds to the United Nationalities Federal Council, a coalition of ethnic parties and armed ethnic groups.
Council spokesman Colonel Khun Okka said it had signed a cooperation agreement with the Nippon Foundation. The foundation gives money to help “arrange meetings, tours and consultations”, said Khun Okka who is also chairman of the Pao National Liberation Organisation. “The foundation usually holds meetings in Japan. The assistance from Norway and the EU mainly goes to the Myanmar Peace Center. The Nay Pyi Taw government spends no money. Its budget does not describe how much will be spent on the ongoing peace efforts. The government itself admits to that,” he said.
Colonel Khun Oakka said that the Myanmar Peace Center’s quasi-governmental status raised concerns. “The actions of the Myanmar Peace Center are semi-official. Actually, these matters should be dealt with in Parliament. A committee or an investigation body, after it has been formed by the government, must forward any important issue to Parliament in accord with the law. It is better to seek approval of Parliament. But the Myanmar Peace Center was formed with a special order from the president,” he said.
Khun Oakka also said the peace center had lost its neutrality. “In the beginning, it defended its role without showing bias, but now it has swayed to one side. It has become a member of the government’s Union Level Peace Working committee,” he said.
OPAQUE FUNDING COULD CAUSE ‘CONFUSION’
Political columnist Dr. Yan Myo Thein said that a lack of transparency could cause misunderstanding and confusion, pointing out that the funding for peace relies on international donors and does not show up in the government’s budget.
“I think it is especially important to have transparency in financial matters. The money coming from Norway, the EU and other countries is not for the Myanmar Peace Committee as well as for the government’s peace committee, it is for the country and the people,” Yan Myo Thein said. “A certain body formed by the government or other organisations has to spend that money on behalf of the nation and people. So, it is necessary to keep clear accounts for income and expenses, which need to be made public. Otherwise, there will be confusion,” he said.
Ye Ni, manager of the Irrawaddy News Agency’s Yangon office, said that the government lacked transparency in foreign aid in general. “At present, we can say that the peace center lacks transparency in its spending. Reports should be released even if they are not in detail,” he said.
A spokesman for a Shan political party said armed ethnic groups were monitoring the peace center. “We are watching what it is doing. Financial matters should be transparent. If not, there may be allegations in the future that the donated funds are being misappropriated in the name of peace efforts,” said Moe Sai La, spokesman for the Shan State Progressive Party and Shan State Army.
Lamai Gwan Ja, member of Kachin State’s Peace Creation Group, said that if peace talks were unsuccessful there could be misunderstanding and confusion about the peace center’s role. The group has brokered peace talks between the government and the Kachin Independence Organisation on seven occasions, spending more than 200 million kyats of its own funds. Its members raised the funds among themselves, Lamai Gwan Ja said.
There are also concerns that the peace process funded by international donors may face outside interference, following reports that China interfered in last month’s peace talks between the government and the Kachin Independence Organisation in the Chinese border town of Ruili. China brokered that set of talks.
Yan Myo Thein also said the government should include spending on peace in its budget.
“I think the government’s budget should cover expenses for the nation’s own peace process,” he said. “The acceptance of international funding should be transparent. Moreover, there should not be political and personal benefits behind the funding. Another thing is that one should not overwhelm or interfere in the peace processes because one provides funds. It is necessary to carry out the peace processes independently,” Yan Myo Thein said.
The Myanmar Peace Center was established on November 3 last year. It is led by Aung Min, vice-chairman of the Union Level Peace Working Committee. Its members include two union ministers, Soe Thein and Khin Yi, and several representatives of nongovernmental organisations: Dr. Kyaw Yin Hlaing, Hla Maung Shwe, Kyaw Soe Hlaing, Aung Naing Oo and Dr. Min Zaw Oo.