Regional and international audit institutions, as well as the auditors general of Sweden and Norway, are providing legitimacy to the illegal Myanmar military junta through recognition, engagement and support.
In November, the Myanmar military junta’s auditor general, Dr Kan Zaw, became the Chairperson of the intergovernmental organisation, ASEAN Supreme Audit Institutions (ASEANSAI), placing the group under the military junta’s leadership.
Dr Kan Zaw was appointed auditor general by the illegitimate military junta on February 2 in an order signed by Lt Gen Aung Lin Dwe, following the brutal attempted coup in which the former auditor general, Maw Than, was deposed. Dr Kan Zaw had proven his loyalty to the military, having served as a deputy minister under the military’s former proxy government, led by the Union Solidarity and Development Party.
The Myanmar military junta took over the rotating ASEANSAI chair from Malaysia during the ASEANSAI Summit, hosted by the junta’s Office of the Auditor General (OAG) on November 2, 2021.
The Summit featured Vice Senior General, Soe Win, as the “Guest of Honour”. Soe Win is a war criminal responsible for genocide in 2017 and ongoing atrocity crimes as Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Myanmar military. As Senior General Min Aung Hlaing’s deputy, he played a key leadership role in the military’s illegal and brutal attempted coup on February 1, 2021.
In his opening video address at the ASEANSAI Summit, Soe Win told participants that the 2020 national election in Myanmar was marred by electoral fraud and that the National League for Democracy “were trying to grab power illegally”. He claimed that the Myanmar military “are doing our utmost to firmly build a disciplined and genuine multi-party democratic system.”
Also present at the meeting were representatives of the Swedish auditor general’s office and a Norway-based intergovernmental organisation that provides development assistance.
The meeting took place after a year of international engagement with Dr Kan Zaw and the junta’s OAG through ASEANSAI, which included meetings and training sessions attended by staff of the junta’s OAG.
The European Union is a notable exception to this engagement. Pierre Destexhe of the EU Mission to ASEAN told Justice For Myanmar that “in conformity with its strong condemnation of the military coup, its unequivocal non-recognition of the military leadership and its sustained calls for an immediate and unconditional return of democracy in Myanmar, the EU did not engage in any form of dialogue with the military junta, including with the office of the auditor general since February 1, 2021… Therefore the EU does not plan participation in ASEANSAI events or support to ASEANSAI while the Myanmar military junta is included.”
Justice For Myanmar has investigated international engagement with the junta’s auditor general, which has taken place in a vacuum of international recognition for the illegal military junta, including the UN rejection of a junta-appointed ambassador.
As part of this investigation, Justice For Myanmar reviewed internal organisational documents received through freedom of information requests to organisations in Sweden and Norway.
The International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI), based in the Austrian Court of Audit, is an intergovernmental organisation of auditors general. Myanmar is a member and, in a shocking betrayal of democratic principles, INTOSAI formally recognised the Myanmar military junta shortly after the February coup attempt, listing Dr Kan Zaw as the INTOSAI member for Myanmar on their website and in its official media (after questions from Justice For Myanmar, INTOSAI removed the names of auditors general from their member listings).
Justice For Myanmar asked INTOSAI when and how the decision was made to recognise the illegal Myanmar military junta. INTOSAI did not respond to these questions, providing only a short statement that INTOSAI “is an autonomous, independent, professional and non-political organization”.
On March 18, Dr Kan Zaw sent a letter to INTOSAI notifying that a new auditor general had been appointed. The letter, disclosed to Justice For Myanmar, explained that “since this post entails acting independently in carrying out all powers and duties of the Auditor General, we have to discharge responsibility and uphold the virtues”.
INTOSAI and the Austrian Court of Audit did not respond to a freedom of information request regarding their recognition of, and engagement with, the illegal military junta.
The INTOSAI Development Initiative (IDI) is an INTOSAI organ chaired by the Auditor General of Norway. IDI aims to support the capacity development of audit institutions in the developing world.
IDI told Justice For Myanmar that INTOSAI administers membership and IDI “works with all its members”.
After the Office of the Auditor General of Norway wrote to IDI recommending advocacy in response to the illegal coup, IDI released a statement expressing concern about the independence of the junta’s OAG. IDI claimed that the military coup may breach Principle 2 of the Mexico Declaration on SAI Independence, which requires security of tenure for supreme audit institutions (SAIs).
Yet, INTOSAI and IDI also continued business as usual with the junta’s OAG.
On March 26, IDI wrote to Dr Kan Zaw, inviting him to nominate up to 20 people for a ten-month, professional education pilot program for state auditors. The program required that the junta’s OAG also nominate a coach, with IDI bearing all costs for the development and delivery of the course.
Some IDI engagement with the junta was related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The junta has weaponised COVID-19, restricting oxygen supplies, blocking aid, arresting doctors and medical personnel, denying vaccines to Rohingya and dismantling the healthcare system. Under the military junta, millions of dollars in COVID-19 relief funds have disappeared.
Correspondence that IDI disclosed to Justice For Myanmar shows junta staff trying to continue business as usual amid mass anti-coup protests and the military’s campaign of terror.
In one email, a staff member from the junta’s OAG informed IDI that they could not join a webinar because of “some riot near my house and it caused wifi line disconnected [sic]”.
In another, the junta’s OAG informed IDI of an internet shutdown that would prevent webinar attendance.
In a third email, the junta’s OAG informed IDI of the “resignation” of a training participant, which may allude to OAG staff participating in the Civil Disobedience Movement.
As the junta’s terror campaign intensified with mass killings, torture, rape and indiscriminate airstrikes, INTOSAI continued to recognise and legitimise the junta through communication, training and participation in events.
In October, IDI facilitated an ASEANSAI “lessons learned” session, inviting Dr Kan Zaw.
IDI also invited Dr Kan Zaw to its Global Summit in November, asking the junta’s OAG and other invitees to share their “success stories”.
In addition, IDI participated in an ASEANSAI development partners meeting in October with Dr Kan Zaw.
Further, a representative of IDI attended the November ASEANSAI Summit hosted by the Myanmar military junta where Vice Senior General, Soe Win, gave the opening address.
In response to questions from Justice For Myanmar of reputation laundering for the Myanmar military junta, IDI stated, “IDI’s cooperation with ASEANSAI is at a technical level through the ASEANSAI Secretariat hosted by the SAI of Indonesia. We are aware of the risks of reputation laundering and continue to monitor the situation closely and will respond accordingly.”
When asked why they attended the Summit, IDI stated, “The agenda for the meeting did not include attendance by Soe Win. As ASEANSAI is a non-political organisation, the attendance by Soe Win was inappropriate and should not have happened. IDI is now discussing the implications of this event for its future engagement. We have discussed with the European Commission, who support our continued engagement with ASEANSAI.”
In addition to engagement with the Myanmar military junta through IDI, Norway’s Office of the Auditor General has direct engagement with ASEANSAI.
While Norway’s Office of the Auditor General wrote to the junta’s auditor general on February 4, seeking clarification on “changes of higher management” and again on February 23 to put bilateral cooperation on hold, they have continued to engage with the junta through ASEANSAI.
In August, this included the training of junta staff in performance auditing on modern fisheries through ASEANSAI.
Norway’s Office of the Auditor General also participated in an ASEANSAI development partners meeting in October, with Dr Kan Zaw, to discuss support for ASEANSAI under the junta’s leadership.
During the meeting, a representative of Norway’s Office of the Auditor General stated that Norway can provide assistance and advice as a “technical donor”, funded by the Norwegian parliament. He offered Norway’s support on a “large scale”.
In response to questions from Justice For Myanmar, Norway’s Office of the Auditor General described their collaboration with ASEANSAI as “informal” and involving “technical assistance.”
Justice For Myanmar asked Norway’s Office of the Auditor General if their cooperation with the military junta through ASEANSAI is consistent with the Norwegian government’s policy of freezing bilateral aid to Myanmar in response to the coup attempt.
Øivind Berg Larsen, Head of the International Division, replied that “the engagement of OAG Norway with ASEANSAI on a technical level is in line with Norwegian foreign policy. No specific instructions or approval is needed for the OAG as an independent body.”
When asked how Norway’s OAG has assessed the human rights and reputational laundering risk of engaging with the illegal junta through ASEANSAI, Øivind Berg Larsen responded, “Our analysis has been that the nature of the support we give is not of such a nature that it can cause human rights violations. We acknowledge the fact that engaging with ASEANSAI while OAG Myanmar has the Chairmanship involves a risk of reputational laundering. We consider this risk as low related to a technical collaboration. Our collaboration with ASEANSAI is at a technical and not political level.”
The Swedish National Audit Office (SNAO) has engaged with the junta’s OAG throughout 2021 and has a memorandum of understating in place with ASEANSAI until the end of 2022, regarding the provision of technical support and training.
Swedish engagement has included attendance at the ASEANSAI Summit in which Soe Win was “guest of honour” in November, participation in the ASEANSAI development partners coordination meeting and were involved in training to members of the junta’s OAG on performance audits in October, and on compliance audits in June.
In July, SNAO supported a workshop on financial audits in which one session was facilitated by a member of the junta’s OAG.
As part of this, SNAO was involved in ASEANSAI’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis.
A report on the ASEANSAI members’ demands and SWOT analysis states that most members suggested deleting the goal “to promote safeguarding the independence of members SAIs” due to “different legal and political profiles of each member SAI”.
The document made no mention of the Myanmar military’s attempted coup and the illegitimacy of the junta’s OAG as a threat to ASEANSAI.
In October, a member of the SNAO participated in ASEANSAI’s development partners meeting. During the meeting, the Swedish participant offered to work with ASEANSAI to develop international partners and donors during the period when ASEANSAI is under the junta leadership.
Justice For Myanmar asked the SNAO about their engagement with the junta’s OAG. They replied, “Through our international capacity development work, the Swedish NAO works with several SAIs operating in challenging contexts, including non-democratic and authoritarian regimes. In our view, an effective SAI is a vital part of any democracy. We believe that by supporting SAIs, also in very complex contexts, we can – in the long run – contribute to strengthening democracy through transparency and accountability of government institutions.”
When asked about their attendance at the ASEANSAI Summit, in which Soe Win was “Guest of Honour”, SNAO told Justice For Myanmar that Soe Win’s participation was not announced beforehand and “thus we had no chance to reconsider our attendance.” A copy of the Summit agenda provided to Justice For Myanmar shows “xxxx” in place of Soe Win. The SNAO since demands that speakers are announced in advance, Dagens Nyheter reported, a response that ignores the serious human rights impact of engaging with the terrorist military junta.
In December, Auditor General Helena Lindberg told Dagens Nyheter, “We are obviously concerned about developments in Myanmar, and see a threat to the independence of the audit authority, but we see our participation in ASEANSAI as a way to resist evil forces, and make the assessment that we want to continue to fulfill our commitment.”
SNAO’s engagement with ASEANSAI is inconsistent with Sweden’s strategy on development cooperation with Myanmar. In April last year, the Swedish government issued changes specifying that “development cooperation shall neither resource nor legitimise the setback for democracy that the military takeover has entailed.”
SNAO’s legitimisation of the military junta is also inconsistent with its own international development cooperation strategy, which specifies that cooperation “is based on and characterised by a rights and poverty perspective” with an overall purpose to promote “democratic development”.
Since the Myanmar military’s illegal attempted coup, ASEAN has failed to take effective action against the junta’s criminal conduct.
ASEAN has been unable to achieve any progress towards their five-point consensus, agreed to in an ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting held in Indonesia in April, in which Senior General Min Aung Hlaing participated.
The first of the five points is for an “immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar”. Not only has the military junta ignored this but they have intensified their terror campaign since April, with murders, mass arrests, torture, indiscriminate airstrikes and shelling.
ASEANSAI is an official ASEAN entity. The ASEAN Secretary General participates in ASEANSAI events. For instance, the former Secretary General, Dato Lim Jock Hoi, gave an address at the ASEANSAI Summit hosted by the Myanmar military junta. This occurred in contrast to ASEAN’s decision to only invite a “non-political” representative of Myanmar to its annual summit.
Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, recently stated that ASEAN should continue to not include political representatives from Myanmar at meetings.
Through ASEANSAI, the supreme audit institutions of member states have continued business as usual with the junta’s OAG, culminating in the transfer of chairpersonship from Malaysia to Myanmar in December.
The activities of ASEANSAI throughout the year have been supported by the Audit Board of the Republic of Indonesia (BPK), which provides the organisation’s secretariat. BPK is now serving the Myanmar military junta’s chairpersonship.
The National Unity Government, which was democratically elected shortly before the attempted coup in February 2021, has designated the Myanmar military as a terrorist organisation, a classification supported by international legal experts under international law.
INTOSAI and the Norwegian and Swedish auditors general are legitimising the illegal military junta through their continued engagement with, and support for, ASEANSAI. Since the junta’s auditor general has taken up the role of Chair of ASEANSAI, any engagement with the organisation legitimises the military junta and can amount to reputation laundering.
Since the ASEANSAI Summit, the junta has continued to commit horrific war crimes and crimes against humanity in its attempt to gain full control of Myanmar.
After the Myanmar military’s killing of at least 35 people on Christmas Eve in Karenni State, the UN Security Council issued a statement demanding an immediate cessation of violence and accountability, yet the junta’s campaign of terror continues with total impunity.
The junta is desperately seeking international legitimacy. The acceptance of the junta and its auditor general by INTOSAI, ASEAN and audit institutions in Norway and Sweden has only emboldened its illegitimate coup. Continued engagement disregards the will of the Myanmar people, who are represented by the National Unity Government and overwhelmingly oppose the illegal attempted coup.
The Myanmar military’s illegal coup attempt breaches the Lima Declaration of Guidelines on Auditing Precepts, which states independence as an essential prerequisite, and the Mexico Declaration on SAI Independence.
Justice For Myanmar welcomes the European Union’s clear stance to not support ASEANSAI while the military junta is included. Other international organisations must follow suit.
Justice For Myanmar calls on international organisations including ASEANSAI and INTOSAI to immediately stop recognising the Myanmar military junta and bar the junta’s OAG from participation in all international fora. ASEANSAI must revoke the junta’s chairpersonship.
The auditors general of Norway and Sweden must stop all engagement with ASEANSAI while the Myanmar military junta is included, following the lead of the European Union.
Documents from Norway’s Office of the Auditor General related to Myanmar and ASEANSAI, disclosed to Justice For Myanmar: Download PDF (1.69 mb)
Documents from the Swedish National Audit Office related to Myanmar and ASEANSAI, disclosed to Justice For Myanmar.
Batch one: Download ZIP (19.4 mb)
Batch two: Download ZIP (23.8 mb)
Batch three: Download ZIP (19.5 mb)
Letter from the European Union to Justice For Myanmar (Nov 17, 2021): Download PDF (99.4 kb)
Letter from Intosai General Secretariat to Justice For Myanmar (Nov 19, 2021): Download PDF (86.2 kb)
Letter from Intosai Development Initiative to Justice For Myanmar (Nov 14, 2021): Download PDF (106.5 kb)
Letter from Norway’s Office of the Auditor General to Justice For Myanmar (Nov 19, 2021): Download PDF (111.6 kb)
Letter from the Swedish National Audit Office to Justice For Myanmar (Nov 18, 2021): Download PDF (99.5 kb)
Letter from the Asian Development Bank to Justice For Myanmar (Nov 25, 2021): Download PDF (108.3 kb)
Letter from the World Bank to Justice For Myanmar (Nov 20, 2021): Download PDF (93.9 kb)