Monday, September 25, 2017

Religious affairs minister was expecting to get axed

Sources close to sacked Minister for Religious Affairs U San Sint say he had been expecting to be fire or face concocted criminal charges as a result of his disagreements with other members of the government.

Former Minister for Religious Affairs U San Sint (centre). Photo: SuppliedFormer Minister for Religious Affairs U San Sint (centre). Photo: Supplied

U San Sint was dismissed by President U Thein Sein on June 19 and charged with criminal breach of trust by a public servant, which carries a possible life jail term, and the government said he may face further charges.

The charge stems from his alleged misuse of K7.2 million to build a pagoda in Nay Pyi Taw’s Lewe township that was officially consecrated on December 20, 2013. He appeared briefly in court on June 19 and reports said he was transferred to Yamethin Prison. His family is said to be under house arrest.

But there was little doubt that his dismissal was related to his criticism of the raid on Mahasantisukha monastery on June 10, and many observers have suggested the charge was a pretext to remove him from office.

A senior figure in the nationalist Ma Ba Tha movement, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the case, said U San Sint had known the axe was coming.

“He told me that he knew what would happen to him because of his conflict with other government officials. He said, ‘I don’t care if they dismiss or transfer me but I will do what I believe is right. I don’t want to be on the wrong side of history,’” said the source, who regularly travelled with the religious affairs minister.

“The minister was warned three or four months ago for his comments on the need to eliminate corruption among government and parliamentary officials. He even predicted that he would be assassinated or sent to prison on false charges.”

Government spokesperson U Ye Htut said the Mahsantisukha issue was one of a number of problems that prompted the government to sack U San Sint.

“Since the monastery dispute started, the president told him to settle it … But his handling of this issue led to disunity between the two sides. Finally, it led to misunderstanding between the government and the monks,” U Ye Htut told reporters. “He did some things without informing the president so finally we took action. In the past, the president admonished him very often … This was the final straw.”

But U Ye Htut rejected the suggestion that U San Sint was a scapegoat for criticism of the government’s role in the raid. He said further charges against the former minister may be laid after a Bureau of Special Investigation probe.

“We told him to tackle [Mahasantisukha] in a peaceful way but he created disunity that could be dangerous for the government. We had no choice.”

The Mahasantisukha raid, which was carried out by the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee and officials from the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Yangon Region government, provoked an outpouring of criticism, with some monks warning it could spark monk-led anti-government protests.

The statement dismissing U San Sint was released almost immediately after a press conference about the raid at which presidential adviser for religious affairs U Ant Maung said the Sangha committee had made the correct decision.

But U Parmaukkha, better known as Magwe Sayadaw, said it was unfair to target U San Sint while “the most corrupt groups” are let off.

“He is not the right person to be charged,” he said. “I think it is just a game and the minister is now the bait.”

Amyotha Hluttaw representative U Phone Myint Aung said the corruption charge was laughable.

“It’s not reasonable to punish someone over K7 million … A minister could easily settle it with an auditor,” he said. “Doing this to a minister only harms the government’s dignity.”

While unpopular with many of his colleagues, U San Sint, a former deputy regional commander, had a loyal public following, particularly in Ayeyarwady Region, where he served as hluttaw speaker from 2011 to 2013.

In late 2012 he supported a motion from MPs to sack the regional government and accused Union Solidarity and Development Party vice chair U Htay Oo of interfering in the dispute.

When he was nominated for the ministerial post, hundreds protested in Ayeyarwady Region calling for him to be allowed to remain as speaker, while a petition against the appointment garnered more than 1000 signatures.

U San Sint was also reluctant to accept the post, saying that he believed he could contribute more as regional speaker, but ultimately had little choice.