Extortion persists during democratic transition

November 13, 2012

HURFOM: In recent years, Burmese militia forces, township-level authorities, and village administrators have been accused of conspiring to extort money from residents in several parts of Thanbyuzayat Township in Mon State. Now, a similar trend appears to be continuing in the area around Waethon Chaung Village, about 1.5 miles south of Thanbyuzayat. The local authorities and alleged perpetrators maintain that the levies they collect fund a school construction project and cover the cost of guarding the nearby Ye to Tavoy railway and Kanbauk to Myaing Kalay gas pipeline, but residents are not convinced.

Each of the approximately 400 households in Waethon Chaung is required to pay local administrators 1,000 kyat per month to supplement the expense of building a new upper primary school. However, one villager claims to see those same tax collectors drinking nightly at the administration office, while others report their skepticism that the money ever reaches the project fund. To complicate matters further, the school’s construction is now complete, yet the monthly fees continue.

A Waethon Chaung resident said, “The village administration group started collecting this tax a long time ago; I don’t remember the date it began. They collect 1,000 kyat from each household to build the upper primary school and the villagers try to pay as much as they can, but no one knows if they are really spending the money on the building. Now, the school is finished but the group still collects the tax. It would be better if the tax stopped. The same people are also charging households 500 kyat each to guard the railway until November 15. The villagers are unhappy but do not know how to solve the problem.”

Similar to accusations that the school tax was not properly allocated, residents assert that the railway and pipeline sentry posts are often unmanned, despite their regular contributions to the security fund. Several villagers explained feeling compelled to pay the taxes because they work their own jobs and do not have time to personally guard the development projects. They worry that if they fail to sponsor a sentry and an attack or explosion occurs, they will be asked to fund the reconstruction efforts. Residents also reported that, in some cases, fees were not claimed for four or five months, leaving them vulnerable to the sudden collection of 4,000 to 5,000 kyat in “back taxes.”

Local authorities and the village administration group charge households differently based on their perceived incomes, demanding between 1,500 to 3,000 kyat from families in Waethon Chaung, Sakhan Kyii, Wae Rat, and Wae Win Kara villages of Thanbyuzayat Township. Similar reports have come from villages in Mudon Township, including Kwan Hlar, Youn Doun, Hnipa Daw, Kwan Kape, Kohpee Htaw, Bae Doo, Thaung Kae and Kamawat. Residents of these villages describe paying monthly fees of 1,500 to 2,500 kyat per household for railway and pipeline security.

Since the Waethon Chaung administration remained in power after being re-elected in the controversial 2010 election, villagers are asking that the New Mon State Party (NMSP) attempt to remedy the ongoing corruption.

Dating back to the early 1990s when construction of the gas pipeline and railway began, HURFOM has reported on many comparably extortive practices related to sentry duty. Now, as Burma’s transitional period continues to unfold, authorities from every level of government must intercede on behalf of local people to permanently discontinue patterns of corruption.

 

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