Myanmar’s Junta Is Trying to Cut Off Opposition Funding Through Mobile Banking

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According to sources, Myanmar’s military regime is attempting to stifle funding for the country’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG) and other anti-junta organizations by shutting down mobile banking accounts and requiring private lenders to submit daily reports on account activity.

On February 1, Myanmar’s military seized control of the country in a coup d’état and began a campaign of violent repression that has resulted in at least 1,007 civilian deaths and 5,747 arrests, shattering public trust in the government and banking sector.

According to a recent New York Times report, lines form daily for ATM withdrawals, which have been capped at around US $120 to help prevent a run on the banks, and fewer than 100 ATMs carry cash on any given day.

The NUG, the various People’s Defense Force (PDF) militias formed to protect the public from the military, and the anti-junta Civil Disobedience Movement, have increasingly turned to mobile banking services to avoid the country’s cash shortage (CDM).

The junta has increased its scrutiny and imposed new restrictions as a result of the shift.

The junta’s Central Bank vice-chairman, Win Thaw, announced on the official MRTV on August 17 that financial services, particularly mobile payment and mobile banking services such as Wave Money’s WavePay and Kanbawza Bank Ltd.’s KBZPay, will be “closely monitored” by the government.

He called the NUG and the parliament’s Pyidaungsu Hluttaw Committee of Representatives (CRPH) “illegal organizations,” and threatened banks with “legal action” if their mobile services were used to facilitate a NUG-led CDM campaign known as the Aung Lan Lwint Chi Spring Lottery, which was organized to raise funds for the shadow government.

“The CRPH and NUG are actually illegal organizations, and the Central Bank must report this to the Ministry of Planning and Finance in order to stop illegal cash transactions,” he said. “If financial institutions fail to report remittances, they will face legal action under the Financial Institutions Act.”

The vice-chairman also stated that authorities are keeping an eye on transactions related to the NUG’s lottery sale, which began on August 15 and offers a payout of up to 1.5 million kyats (US $910) for monthly drawings for winning tickets purchased through mobile banking platforms. He warned that those who bought tickets could face charges under anti-terrorism and anti-money laundering legislation.

Win Thaw’s remarks came just days after the August 13 leak of a Central Bank letter instructing all banks and financial service providers to restrict almost all lottery-related transactions, in accordance with orders from the Ministry of Planning and Revenue.

Tin Tun Naing, NUG Finance and Investment Minister, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the lottery was planned with the public’s safety in mind, and that the junta’s threats were hollow.

“They said they were going to monitor all of these accounts, but there are hundreds of thousands of monetary transfers every day,” he said.

“How will they know which are eligible for our lottery and which are not?” Other than issuing threats, I don’t believe they can do anything to annoy people. ”

Tin Tun Naing also stated that the junta is unlikely to completely shut down mobile banking because it would interfere with its own administration system, and that a more secure payment system is “in the pipeline.”

Despite the junta’s threats, a young woman named Htet Myat Thaw told RFA that she would not hesitate to support the CDM.

“I’m one of those people who are waiting for the Spring Revolution lottery—not just me, but people all over the country,” she explained.

“We are concerned about our security, but we also need to support our CDM movement, so we must participate in this lottery despite our reservations. The CDM is an important tool in the fight against junta rule. ”

Other sources told RFA that between August 9 and 13, bank accounts used to donate to CDM staff, assist political prisoners, and provide aid to refugees fleeing fighting between the military and the PDF in Myanmar’s remote border regions were closed down.

Ei Pyae Sone, a Mandalay resident, said she and a friend had their KBZPay accounts closed, and that when she contacted Kanbawza Bank to find out why, employees told her it was done on the order of the authorities.

“I was told to go to the bank with my ID card and sort it out,” she explained.

“I had a little more than 3.8 million kyats (US $2,310) in my account. My friend’s account was also blocked [on Tuesday]. We contacted the bank, and they informed us that it was done on orders from the authorities. We inquired as to who the authorities were, but they were unable to provide a specific answer. It is completely unacceptable to report our information to the junta and to block our accounts in this manner. ”

Ei Pyae Sone has warned that if Kanbawza and other banks follow the junta’s orders, the people will boycott them.

A senior manager at a well-known private bank recently told RFA that junta scrutiny of the banking sector began as early as one week after the coup, with the military regime ordering all private lenders to “send details of deposits and withdrawals to the Central Bank” every day at 4:00 p.m.

“Bank employees, particularly top officials, largely followed the instructions out of fear,” the manager explained.

“Interfering in the banking system is bad, but banks have no choice but to obey orders. Because everyone is afraid in our country, it is the norm to do what one is told. ”

He warned that if banks refuse to let them withdraw their money and restrictions on online payments remain in place, people will “certainly lose confidence.”

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