The Leaderboard: Thein Tun

Who is he?

Thein Tun headed Myanmar’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) from March 30, 2011, until January 16, 2013. He served as deputy minister for the Ministry of Communications, Posts, and Telegraphs and as a major-general under the previous military regime.

Why is he in the news?

The government of Myanmar in mid-January launched an investigation into alleged corruption by Thein Tun and other high-ranking MCIT officials. Details of the allegations remain unclear, but they are related to the country’s unusually high prices for mobile phone SIM cards. In Myanmar, the cards can cost $250-$350, compared to less than $20 throughout most of Southeast Asia. Authorities launched the corruption probe after Thein Tun refused to heed President Thein Sein’s call to reduce SIM card prices.

Thein Tun resigned on January 16 after government officials privately ordered his dismissal. Investigators placed him under house arrest shortly afterward. President Thein Sein on February 8 nominated Airforce commander-in-chief General Myat Hein to replace Thein Tun as minister of the MCIT, breaking a recent string of civilian appointees.

What can we expect?

The investigation of Thein Tun and his colleagues demonstrates President Thein Sein’s ongoing efforts to combat Myanmar’s endemic corruption. This is the first known investigation of a cabinet-level minister since the current regime came to power in March, 2011, and it sends a message that corrupt practices common in the old regime will not continue.

Unfortunately, the investigation also raises questions about Myanmar’s capacity to implement sweeping economic and governance reforms. Investors initially welcomed a January 15 call for tenders for telecommunication licenses as a major step in Myanmar’s economic liberalization. But the probe of MCIT officials has complicated the bidding process, delaying the original January 25 close date until February 8. Technical difficulties in the submissions process have reinforced concerns that Myanmar is unprepared to open to foreign investment as quickly as anticipated.

Transparency International presently ranks Myanmar 172 of 176 countries in terms of perceived corruption. The current regime recognizes that it must make a strong effort to clamp down on the problem if it hopes to improve investor confidence and maintain popular support for ongoing political reforms. The MCIT is a bold first step that must be encouraged in order for Myanmar to reach its potential.

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