Corruption in Mergui Township highlights vulnerability in remote areas

September 20, 2012

HURFOM: Situated on an island in the Andaman Sea near the southernmost tip of Burma, also known as Myanmar, Mergui Township’s remote location is causing some residents to be concerned that the transitions occurring in more central areas of the country may not reach their communities. Currently, authorities of the police and administration departments in Mergui Township are being accused of arbitrary taxation, corruption, and intimidation against local people, and recent interviews collected from ten Mergui villagers illustrate persistent exploitation and the perception that their distant island could be excluded from democratic reform.

Several Mergui police officers are being accused of accepting bribes from proprietors of over sixty restaurants that serve as fronts for prostitution, as well as profiting from an illicit drug trade that is fueling corruption between criminals and public servants. In particular, police officer Myint Lwin was identified as leading a local extortion racket that illegitimately fines residents and accepts pay-offs from illegal prostitution, drugs, lottery ticket sales, and gambling.

U Mg Nge, a 48-year-old education department staff member in the Kan Phar quarter of Mergui Township, said, “Based on our observations, police officer Myint Lwin and his fellow officers earn hundreds of thousands of Kyat each month from taking bribes. They use that money to pay other provincial officers and division authorities, so that even if we inform senior officers of a problem, they ignore us. We are not happy about having prostitution in our quarter or to have our children live in an area affected by drugs. We want a society far from these activities.”

The wave of prostitution is largely hitting populated areas, and many local youths and parents of adolescents are worried that the influence may have long-term effects on growing generations. One young man in Shwe Pyi Thar quarter said, “It is obvious that there are 66 restaurants offering prostitution services, including on No. 9 Thukha Road. Many young people have picked up bad habits and cases of HIV are increasing.”

Daw Win Win Myit, a woman in her 50s and a fellow resident of Shwe Pyi Thar quarter, said, “It is so embarrassing for the adults who are from good families. If these things continue here, I plan to move away. Since the police allow these services to carry on without penalty, it has become very comfortable for proprietors to behave with impunity.”

Locals also assert that police corporals Myo Thein and Zaw Myo Aung are training men to work as hired “gangsters” for officer Myint Lwin, saying that Myo Thein is a well-known liaison for major drug dealers and Zaw Myo Aung is notorious for extorting money from lottery ticket vendors, petrol shops, and football bookies. Residents claim that these violations have been occurring since the former military regime was in power, but now the crimes are more flagrant, with perpetrators counting on bribing the police or the courts to get off.

Teashop owner Ko Way said, “The responsibilities of a good police force are to protect and secure the lives of the public. But now, police officer Myint Lwin and his group are upsetting the lives of regular [legitimate] merchants and making their lives more insecure. Police are wicked in this city, and now we say that the police station is where the criminals get trained. The police take a cut of the profits from prostitution peddlers and drug dealers. They may force those of us who work normal jobs to pay them more tax, and they will cause trouble if we do not pay. They train thugs to monitor the residents and report any news about us. When locals can’t pay the taxes they demand, [the police] order these thugs to destroy buildings and shops, or to confiscate public property.”

A retired civil servant said, “The residents of Mergui Township are worried that fundamental laws are still being broken during this time of transitional justice and reform in Burma. Now, as changes are happening across [the country], the government should not leave our location out of enforcement of the most basic laws. The government should react to officials that are not behaving honorably toward the residents and ensure that corruption happens less and less in this transition period—this is so that the civilians can know that the government is doing the right thing for them. Now, the [rule of] law appears worse than in the past, unless the government holds its civil servants accountable for their corruption.”

U Than Tun, the regional organizer of the Democratic Party (Myanmar), concluded, “In this time of political change, the government needs to put an end to prostitution because it affects local dignity to live in [such a] society and slows down the country’s progress. Young people that are influenced by these activities, including gambling and using drugs, are less interested in advancing education for themselves and the country. If the government allows this behavior to continue, then its leadership will not be sustainable in the future.”

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