News that authorities in Karen State are planning to crack down on drivers using unlicensed vehicles is causing a great deal of worry among the state’s car owners.
Most of the vehicles being driven in Karen State are unlicensed for travel interstate and there is an acknowledgement between drivers and authorities that this is allowed as along as these vehicles travel within the State.
A car owner told Karen News that a local registration is available from authorities in Hpa-an and is currently widely used in Karen State.
“This is a big concern for us. The registration for legal interstate travel is more expensive than the car.”
Unlicensed vehicles are not only used by civilians, but also by local government officials, civil servants and ethnic Karen armed groups.
Saw Khin Maung Myint, the Minister of Transportation Department, Karen State confirmed the government plans to Karen News, but said that no concrete action had been taken on the issue.
Saw Khin Maung Myint pointed out to Karen News that in order to carry out the implementation of a ‘new registration’ system, it would need the close cooperation of the various government departments involved and from the ethnic armed groups, especially those who had signed peace agreements with the government. The Minister said that the cooperation of these groups and departments would be needed if the plan were to succeed.
Saw Khin Maung Myint said that a committee would be formed to handle the registration issue and representatives from government departments and ethnic armed groups would be included.
Speaking to Karen News, Saw Khin Maung Myint said.
“A committee hasn’t been formed yet. We will announce to the public right after we have formed it, then we will start taking action.”
Saw Khin Maung Myint said that the State government would start the seizing unlicensed vehicles from January 16, 2016.
Saw Khin Maung Myint explained that action needed because Burma is part of the ASEAN Economic Community and it is important that it catches up with current ASEAN transportation standards.
Saw Khin Maung Myint said that his department had sent a letter to the Union Ministry in Naypyidaw of what to do with the soon to be seized vehicles, or if a State license for the unlicensed vehicles is to be issued. The State minister said that decision was up to the Union officials.
According to vehicles dealers spoken to by Karen News, unlicensed vehicles make their way inside the country with the full knowledge of local government officials and many of those using these vehicles have secured a permit from either local government officials or from ethnic armed groups.
Ko Aung Myint, a Hpa-an resident said that if the law is not equally applied between citizens and government officials or armed groups, it will be unjust.
Speaking to Karen News, Ko Aung Myint said.
“We accept it, if it is the law, but it should be applied at all levels. Vehicles are cheap, but the license is way too expensive. If the license cost were reasonable, people would register their vehicles. And people will follow the traffic rules. The main thing is the government has to find ways to reduce the cost of licenses.”
Karen State based Members of Parliament have sent a petition to the State Chief Minister on January 2, calling for the postponement of the proposed seizure of vehicles.
The current Karen State’s Member of Parliament, Mann Tin Aung Myint, the House of Representative or Pyithu Hluttaw Parliamentarians Nan Say Awar and Saw Thein Aung signed the petition letter requesting the postponement.
Nan Say Awar spoke to Karen News about the petition.
“We made this request to the State government on behalf of our citizens. There has been many criticisms of the government regarding this issue. We all know that almost the whole country uses unlicensed vehicles. We are not against this [government crackdown] action as it should be according to the law, but we want at least one month’s postponement.”
Nan Say Awar said that the petition explained that as it is close to Karen New Year, many people will travel with unlicensed vehicles and as it is close to the Union Peace Conference, such action could cause negative perceptions for the government or could stir up conflict with some groups who do not agree with the move.
Nan Say Awar concerns reflect those of Ko Ye’ Paing, a passenger driver using an unlicensed car on the Myawaddy- Hpa-an route.
Ko Ye Paing is worried his family will face financial difficulties because of the governments plans.
“Drivers in Karen State make money from their cars to feed their families. They make money for their food, children’s education and other social or religious expenses. I want to tell the officials that, instead of seizing the vehicles, try to find ways that would give us permission to still use our cars by issuing regional licenses or state licenses and we will pay the taxes.”