By MRATT KYAW THU & SEAN GLEESON | FRONTIER
YANGON — The regional chief minister says he has been “wrongly accused” of malfeasance in a Reuters investigation into his government’s public transport reforms and asked the Press Council to “take action” against the company’s local bureau.
U Phyo Min Thein’s complaint was received by the council on Monday, a week after Reuters published an article on two recent deals to import buses from China to run on the commercial capital’s roads, at an estimated cost of over $100 million.
The chief minister’s office wrote a terse email to the Press Council on Sunday, without specifying which aspects of the Reuters report were inaccurate.
U Thiha Saw, the Press Council’s deputy chairman, said a response had been sent asking the chief minister to lodge his complaint through the council’s formal processes, if he chose to pursue the matter.
“[The Yangon government] sent an email to us which complained about the article as ‘wrongly accused’ – that’s all,” he said, adding that the council would need more information before it could determine whether to adjudicate the complaint.
In an email sent to Frontier on Monday, a Reuters spokesperson said the news agency “stands by the fairness and accuracy of this story”.
The import deals in question — which were not put to public tender and came in for fierce criticism by both regional lawmakers and other potential bidders — have brought 2,000 Chinese-built buses to the city as part of the government’s Yangon Bus Service reforms.
According to Reuters, the Yangon Public Bus Company bought 1,000 buses from two suppliers selected by the Chinese ambassador to Myanmar. A further 1,000 were bought from another Chinese firm in a deal brokered by U Kyaw Ne Win, grandson of the former dictator Ne Win.
Reuters quoted U Maung Aung, chairman of the Yangon Public Bus Company, as saying the deals were struck to “maintain good relations” between Myanmar and China.
The chief minister’s office has not responded to multiple requests for comment from various Yangon media outlets.
The complaint comes at a time of heightened conflict between lawmakers in the Yangon assembly and the regional government, with multiple MPs from the National League for Democracy telling reporters in recent months that the government was not acting in a transparent manner.
Phyo Min Thein’s complaint against Reuters is the latest in several clashes with the press since his appointment 18 months ago.
Late last year, he filed a defamation complaint against Eleven Media Group chief executive Dr Than Htut Aung and chief editor U Wai Phyo, following the publication of an editorial suggesting the chief minister had accepted a $100,000 watch to grant favourable concessions on a city development project.
Both men spent nearly two months behind bars at Insein Prison before a bail application was granted in January.
During a testy media conference in June, Phyo Min Thein told reporters present that they should show more deference to his government, citing the years he spent in prison as a democracy activist.