Regime leader Min Aung Hlaing during the Armed Forces Day parade in Naypyitaw in March 2021. / Cincds
By The Irrawaddy 12 October 2021
When Myanmar’s military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing seized power in a coup on Feb. 1, it not only stalled the country’s democratization, but marked a U-turn to the time of U Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government.
The senior general has brought back ministries and ministers as well as resurrected projects from ex-general U Thein Sein’s era, revived restrictive laws scrapped by the National League for Democracy (NLD) government, and resumed suspended projects, among other things. Let’s take a closer look.
Restoration of ministries
Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing has revived the Ministry of Cooperatives, which was dissolved and had its responsibilities transferred to the Agriculture Ministry by the NLD government after it assumed office in 2016.
The NLD government also merged the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Science and Technology into one ministry. The coup leader has separated them again. It has done the same with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Sports; they were two separate ministries under U Thein Sein, but combined under the NLD, and again separated into the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Sports and Youths Affairs by the coup leader.
Reappointment of ministers
Foreign Minister U Wunna Maung Lwin, Immigration and Population Minister U Khin Yi and Commerce Minister Dr. Pwint Hsan of U Thein Sein’s government have been given their positions back in the so-called interim government formed by the military regime. Even U Thein Sein’s adviser U Ko Ko Hlaing is back, this time as minister of international cooperation.
GAD back under Home Affairs Ministry
The General Administration Department (GAD), which forms the backbone of the administrative mechanism in Myanmar, was overseen by the Home Affairs Ministry in successive periods of the country’s modern history.
The department is central to the functioning of local governance from the village and ward levels to the Union level. It oversees population registration, land registration and collection of demographic data, while also supervising administration, local dispute resolution, tax collection and compilation of voter lists.
After the NLD took office in 2016, the GAD initially remained under the control of the Home Affairs Ministry, one of the three key ministries held by the military under the 2008 Constitution. In December 2018, however, the NLD government put the GAD under the Ministry of the Office of the Union Government in a bid to assert civilian oversight of the department.
The regime however transferred control of the GAD back to the Home Affairs Ministry on May 5, three months after the coup.
Revival of restrictive laws
In 2016, the NLD government abolished provisions of the country’s Ward or Village Tract Administration Law requiring citizens to report overnight guests to authorities. The law had been used to hunt down political activists under the previous military regime, as it grants authorities the right to carry out warrantless household inspections. The senior general brought this law back to life less than two weeks after coup. On Feb. 14, he revoked provisions in the Law Protecting the Privacy and Security of Citizen that require an arrest warrant and the presence of ward or village administrators and witnesses to detain people. He did so to make it easier to arrest striking civil servants charged with incitement, and other critics of military rule.
On June 1, the coup leader renamed a controversial bridge in Mon State spanning the Salween River linking Mawlamyine and Chaungzon townships.
Originally named the General Aung San Bridge (Belu Island) by the NLD government, the bridge was retitled the Thanlwin Bridge (Chaungzon). The regime also changed the background color of the bridge’s nameplate from red to green.
The coup leader even graced the name changing ceremony with his presence. By changing the name of the bridge, the coup leader intended to reap political gains; the original name caused friction between the NLD government and local residents four years ago.
However, local residents said they do not have strong feelings over the bridge’s name, as their only concern now is with ending military rule, which is the enemy of the people.
There were reports that the military regime hired people, paying them 20,000 kyats each to attend the bridge renaming ceremony in traditional Mon costumes.
Lawsuit against monk dropped
In May 2019, the then Yangon regional government of the since-ousted NLD filed a sedition case against firebrand nationalist monk U Wirathu for attempting to incite disaffection against State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD government. The monk was on the run for over a year before turning himself in to police in November last year.
Like many other nationalists, U Wirathu is a staunch supporter of Myanmar’s military and praised Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing as a defender of Buddhism and Burmese society. The regime however did not immediately release him after the coup. He lamented that the regime was “driving him crazy” after he was remanded again and again without a trial commencing. The military finally dropped the charge and set him free on Sept. 5.
Fiscal year changed
The military regime has also changed the national fiscal year back to its original dates from April 1 through March 31. In 2018, the NLD government changed the fiscal year to the period from October to September.
Claiming that the new fiscal year has caused troubles for the government, businessmen and the public, the coup leader announced that the fiscal year will be changed back to its original dates starting from the 2022-23 fiscal year.
Suspended projects resumed
Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing is planning to resume an oil refinery in Yangon’s Thanlyin and a Russia-backed steel factory in Pinpet in southern Shan State that were suspended by the NLD government with the approval of the Union Parliament.
Short of hard currency as the economy slows amid sanctions, the coup leader visited the Thanlyin oil refinery in April and called for its operations to be resumed. In his trip to southern Shan State in September, he also called for the production lines to return to work at the Pinpet steel factory. He hopes to reduce foreign currency expenditures on fuel and steel imports.
The state-owned Thanlyin refinery was constructed in 1955 on nearly 1,700 acres [688 hectares] of land and was formerly capable of processing 20,000 barrels of oil per day. But in 2017 the refinery was closed after NLD lawmakers demanded a halt in the operations of loss-making, government-owned factories in an effort to reduce the budget deficit.
The steel mill in Pinpet near Shan State’s capital Taunggyi was a joint venture between Russia’s Tyazhpromexport and military-owned Myanmar Economic Corporation. It was transferred to the Ministry of Industry under U Thein Sein’s government and scheduled to start operation in late 2016. The NLD government in March 2017 ordered its suspension as it was operating at a loss and locals complained about its environmental impacts. But Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing said the NLD-dominated Union Parliament made an unwise decision to suspend the project. He called for it to be resumed in fiscal 2023-24.
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