Local community wants state government to investigate corruption committed by village administration
June 29, 2012
HURFOM: The local community in Htin-yuu village, Thanbyuzayat Township, Mon State, is pleading with the Mon State government to closely investigate the whereabouts and expenditure of millions of Kyat in taxes charged by Village Administration authorities since the previous government’s administration. Residents suspect the money from taxes is being misused, and seek to uncover any abuses and impose appropriate punishments on any guilty authorities.
For almost 15 years, Village Administration (VA) officials and staff from Htin-yuu village have been collecting “market taxes” from vendors and merchants at the local market. Now, around 50 villagers are requesting documentation describing exactly how much money the VA brought in and how the tax income is being spent. While the taxation practice is not illegal, locals estimate that approximately 40 million Kyat has been collected by the VA chief and staff, and they want to see detailed accounts of how the money was spent, in which month and year, and what particular projects were funded with the taxes. Villagers note that the taxes were said to be providing the administration with funds to support community development, but allege that they have never seen a single civic project or good paid for with public funding.
One Htin-yuu villager, known by his alias Nai Kyaw, said, “It has been about 15 years since taxes started being levied at the market. Since the last government term, U Taung, who previously served as village head but is now employed as the Village Administration chief, has been collecting taxes from local vendors with absolute authority. The amount collected from street vendors and sellers at the markets has reached almost 40 million Kyat. But where has that money gone? No resident could speak out about this before. But now, since we think that it would be very good to improve governance at the village administration level, and considering the government itself claims to be transparent and fair, we want to know the truth. We all will be satisfied if the VA chief can prove to us, with actual evidence, that the taxes are used for community development or other public services.”
The Htin-yuu villagers calculate the total amount of taxes collected from local sellers over the past fifteen years to be at least 38 million Kyat. The rates used for this estimate were determined by the number of vendors in the market and the daily payments that increased over time. According to their results, in the first five years, all market merchants combined were charged around 4,000 Kyat per day, for a total of 7.3 million Kyat. Over the second five years, and using a rate of 7,000 Kyat per day, 12.8 million Kyat was collected. In the last five years, when vendors were collectively charged an average of 10,000 Kyat per day, 18 million Kyat in taxes were levied, for a fifteen-year grand total of 38.1 million Kyat.
The villagers suspect that the VA chief U Taung and the VA staff members have been using these large sums of money for personal gain.
Nai Khin, a 38-year-old rubber plantation owner from Htin-yuu village, recounted, “To implement any community development project in the village, we have to use our own money. We are sure that no big amounts of money are deposited in the bank, and no one has stolen it. Therefore, isn’t it obvious that hundreds of thousands of Kyat have disappeared? That money was used by the VA staff, and if so, they have to be held accountable for it.”
Currently, many local youths are preparing to submit the tax investigation matter to the Mon State government. If the state government does not act or respond, the villagers will present the issue to Nay Pyi Taw in the hopes of uprooting possible grievous abuses.
“We think that corrupt practices like those of the former village head and his staff should no longer be permitted. To reveal the truth and get justice, we young people will use many different methods to promote our cause. We want to spread information about this issue on the Internet, because the international community is encouraging the government to run its administration cleanly and fairly. We want to publicize this case,” described a Htin-yuu village youth, who asked to remain anonymous, in an interview on June 24.
Many locals explained that they want to expose the case of potential long-term corruption because they want authorities to take responsibility in the local community. Residents are not pleased with the lack of transparency by administration authorities in regards to the use of public funds and the provision of accounts detailing expenditures.
Htin-yuu village is located in southern Mon State, 16 miles from Thanbyuzayat, and has over 1,000 households. The majority of the population earns a living tapping rubber plantations, farming paddy fields, and transporting food products.
The Htin-yuu residents maintain that they have been burdened by victimization and the misuse of power committed by the Village Administration authorities since the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), or previous government, was in office. They remember when authorities collected a 1,000 Kyat tax for community development from each household and charged additional fees to supplement their own incomes. Officials also sold land belonging to the locals to use for their own businesses or personal gain. Now, residents are unwilling to wait longer for reforms and an end to corruption in their village.