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Government accused of taking credit for UN aid

By Shwe Yee Saw Myint
August 17, 2015

A picture showing the Magwe government taking credit for boxes marked as UN flood donations has stirred outrage on Facebook. Commenters accused the government of claiming the donations to bolster the appearance of their flood response and to drum up support ahead of the November election.

This photo of UNICEF boxes tagged with a Magwe government sign has provoked a social media storm. Photo: Facebook

Posted to the Myanmar Journalists Network Facebook page on August 10, the widely circulated photo shows a stack of cardboard boxes marked UNICEF, but with a sign saying the lot was donated by the Magwe Region government.

“UNICEF, do not allow the government to misuse your products,” wrote one angered poster.

U Kyaw Win Soe, spokesperson for the Magwe Department for Social Welfare and Resettlement, said flood aid is accepted from many organisations but the proper donor is always acknowledged in line with regulations. He denied the Facebook photo shows improper attribution in the Magwe office, adding that it was probably faked.

The government has previously been accused of misusing, hoarding and profiteering from international organisations’ donations. In the wake of Cyclone Nargis, there were reports of relief kits being embezzled, and some of the donated aid made its way to markets for resale.

UNICEF confirmed they have been receiving an onslaught of complaints following the social media picture of aid in Magwe and said they will investigate the claim of misused aid.

“Many people are asking our organisation about this case. We will explain later, but at the moment we cannot give any comment,” Ko Hlaing Min Oo, a UNICEF advocacy officer, told The Myanmar Times.

UNICEF said the pictured boxes were most likely hygiene refill kits meant to support children and families affected by severe monsoon flooding that has lashed through nearly every state and region in the country.

“Five thousand hygiene refill kits were provided to the Magwe government for delivery to those children and families in need,” Alison Rhodes, chief advocacy and policy officer for UNICEF, said by email. More than 14,400 such kits have been sent to Sagaing, Rakhine and Magwe regions, she added.

U Thet Oo, an administrator in Pwint Phyu township, Magwe Region, said UNICEF had provided a “sample” of supplies on August 10 that have yet to be distributed.

“We didn’t have any UN donations or cooperation in my township before UNICEF came to us. But they didn’t bring many supplies. They came here to collect data assessment for the region,” he said.

The government has been accused by flood victims of a delayed and underwhelming response to the recent floods. Minister of Information U Ye Htut admitted the government’s response has been “weak” and called on international agencies to help the response.

Both the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party and the main opposition National League for Democracy have been pictured providing aid while also encouraging votes for the upcoming general election.

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