‘Protecting our race and religion is what we should do’ - Ayeyarwady Region Minister

18 September 2015
‘Protecting our race and religion is what we should do’ - Ayeyarwady Region Minister
A Muslim man walks on a busy street in downtown Yangon. (Photo: Khun Lat, Myanmar Now) 

In the course of investigating a campaign by prominent members of Ma Ba Tha to end the predominantly Muslim-owned business of cattle slaughtering in Ayeyarwady Region, Myanmar Now reporter Swe Win visited the regional capital Pathein to meet Chief Minister Thein Aung.
The 69-year-old minister, a former army general who became a lawmaker in the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, was appointed to his current position by President Thein Sein in 2011. Thein Aung spoke openly about his support for the campaign in an interview at his office, which contained an abundance of Ma Ba Tha promotional materials, including booklets to teach children about the nationalist movement’s goals.
During the Nov. 8 elections, Thein Aung plans to contest in the region’s Ingapu Township.
Towards the end of the interview he revealed some of his thoughts on the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi when he held up a vinyl poster of her kissing U.S. President Barack Obama during his Myanmar visit. “Is it appropriate for a Burmese woman to act like this? Imagine what would happen if she became the president of the country,” he remarked.
Question: What is your official policy towards the associations led by monks, which are involved in rescuing cattle?
Answer: The monks sometimes work from the forefront [i.e. raiding slaughter houses] and sometimes from behind [like organising]. [But] in this case, in fact, monks should not get involved at the forefront. This is the area of the relevant authorities. If monks are involved in these cases at the forefront and there are problems it is difficult for us to handle. Sometimes, the monks come here and discuss what they wanted to do. I tried to resolve all these cases through dialogue. Actually, I have issued instructions that only the relevant government bodies handle these cases [of inspecting cattle slaughter] and monks should not be involved.
Q: Some monks said you gave them special discounts in bidding on annual slaughter licenses. Is that true?
A: As a Buddhist, I am against cattle slaughter. Particularly, against the mass slaughter. That’s why I supported the monks in the towns where slaughter licenses were put up for bidding. I have supported them a lot in that regard. I have given them a 50 percent discount since last year and this year as well. If the license price is 100 kyats, let’s say, I let them take the license for 50 Kyats. I allow this as a case of special exemption.
Q: Monks claim local authorities are corrupt and not enforcing rules limiting cattle slaughtering. What do you think of these allegations?
A: They are right of course. Unlicensed cattle slaughter cases cannot occur if local authorities are not weak (in law enforcement). So when we receive tip-offs of these cases, we don’t just ask the local authorities to take actions against them. We sent our special team to take actions. On the part of the higher authorities, we do take serious actions against these cases. We don’t condone them.
Q. Would you increase your support to the Ma Ba Tha monks if you were appointed as chief minister again?
A: I can’t just tell the Ma Ba Tha monks not to do this campaign. Since I feel that the activities for protecting our race and religion are what we should do, I encourage, assist and support these activities. I even gave a plot of land to the monks for building a Sunday Dhamma school here in Pathein.
Q: What has your government achieved since you became chief minister of Ayeyarwaddy Region?
A: Rule of law has improved. Also we have made some progress regarding infrastructural development, mainly on roads, bridges and utility services. We also managed to build more hospitals and schools. Our mission for the next five to 10 years is that all children should complete their high school education so much so that our region will have many educated young people. On the employment side, four garment factories, each of which creates 2,000 jobs have been built in this region since I became chief minister.
Q: You are running in the elections. What would be the messages you will be delivering to the voters?
A: The first priority is to promote rule of law and the second is to create an educated class and create jobs. Another is the development of the agricultural sector.