RANGOON — In an act viewed as targeting rampant corruption in Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi has ordered all civil servants not to accept any gift worth more than 25,000 kyats (US$21), an amount more than 10 times lower than the threshold allowed by the previous government.
Signed by Suu Kyi in her capacity as President’s Office minister, the “President’s Office Guidelines on Accepting Gifts” were delivered to union ministries, and state and divisional governments across the country on Friday, according to a post on the office’s Facebook page, which uploaded the document on Monday.
The guidelines were made public three days after Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy-led government officially assumed power on Friday, with the party vowing to target graft in a country known for it. According to Transparency International’s 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index, Burma ranked 156th out of 175 nations surveyed, on par with Cambodia and Zimbabwe.
The document concedes that corruption in Burma runs deep, describing its eradication as a huge challenge for the new government. “However, corruption has to be effectively handled by all means as it can deteriorate society, economy and rule of law,” the aims of the guidelines state.
The nine-point guidelines ban civil servants from accepting gifts “from anyone or organization that would be benefit from their [civil servants’ positions of] responsibility,” including businesses seeking to win government tenders. The guidelines warn that government employees must not ask for gifts, directly or indirectly.
As exceptions, the guidelines allow civil servants to accept gifts with a price tag of not more than 25,000 kyats, and restrict the gifts received from an individual or an organization in a year to not more than 100,000 kyats. Another exception allows civil servants to accept a gift not exceeding 100,000 kyats on holidays when the practice is common, such as the Buddhist celebration of Thadingyut or Christmas.
It further restricts civil servants from accepting gifts “many times.”
From foreign governments, gifts worth not more than 400,000 kyats are acceptable, as is accepting money from these governments for travel or medical expenses, or scholarships.
The last chapter of the guidelines states that “anyone has to report to his or her supervisor upon being offered a gift—whether accepted or not.
“[D]eputy directors general of their offices will have to urgently report to the President’s Office Minister [Suu Kyi] upon giving gifts to their bosses,” the president and vice presidents.
Thein Sein’s government passed an Anticorruption Law in 2013 and established a new anti-graft commission as it attempted to shed the country’s highly corrupt international image. The following year, he told government officials that they could accept gifts worth up to 300,000 kyats without it being considered corruption.
Kyee Myint of the Myanmar Lawyers’ Network said he welcomed the new guidelines but worried that the exceptions listed could offer loopholes that would undermine the anti-graft drive.
“Instead, it should only say any civil servant must not accept or take anything. Any violation can be bribery,” he said.
In October 2013, The Irrawaddy looked at the sometimes ambiguous line between a tradition of generosity in Burma and blatant favor-seeking.