The Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) Executive Director Aye Chan Naing and Assistant Executive Director Khin Maung Win have temporarily resigned from their posts while police in Norway are investigating the loss of around US$ 300,000 (300 million kyat) in the Norway-based organization. Acting Executive Director Harn Yawngshwe said, “This embezzlement mainly took place in the Mae Sot, Thailand, DVB branch.” Mizzima reporter Kyaw Kha interviewed DVB Mae Sot-based branch In-charge Ko San a.k.a. Aung Tun, one of the founders of the Mae Sot branch, started in 2006. He is also one of the members of the Burma VJ [Video Journalist] network.
Q: The DVB board of directors said that the DVB Mae Sot office was where a shortage of US$ 300,000 occurred in its accounts. Is that true?
A: The accusations leveled against us by the board of directors and board member Harn Yawgnshwe that the Mae Sot-based office was mainly involved in this embezzlement is superficial. The reality is different. He ( Khin Maung Win ) said that only three persons were mainly responsible for this case, but he didn’t elaborate on who they are. We are not yet clear to whom he referred, seniors and managers including me, or the most senior official of this (underground) network in Oslo. We cannot answer this question because they have not yet disclosed the facts clearly.
Starting two or three months ago, they informed us verbally about the discrepancies in our financial reports and accounts, but they did not inform the accountants and those who prepared financial reports here on where to look for these discrepancies, by either email or official letter. So we replied to them only verbally, but the problem was not solved. Finally, Aye Chan Naing came to Thailand and met with the people who were overseeing the news reported by domestic reporters [inside Burma]. He didn’t discuss this matter with the responsible persons here and didn’t resolve this matter thoroughly, and then he issued a media statement unilaterally on October 1.
Q: What is the main function of the Mae Sot office?
A: The Mae Sot office is for overseeing all domestic [Burma] networks. Since its inception, it was responsible for sending the rough material of news and video clips received from the domestic network to the DVB departments concerned. During the “Saffron Revolution,” this office had many successes, and we were assigned to edit this rough material later. Basically, we are editing news, news for TV and some feature programmes.
Apart from this, we give training to domestic reporters and help foreign correspondents when they come to us. And we deal with domestic reporters when they come here too, and others.
Q: When was the Mae Sot office formed and with how many people?
A: Our office has been here since early 2006. The number of people working here varies because we are undocumented immigrants so some of us had to live in refugee camps and some of us had to return to Burma. Normally, there were about 15 people here.
Q: How many domestic reporters inside Burma is the office responsible for? How do you work?
A: We have an average of about 50 domestic reporters in our network, but I don’t know the exact number because all of them come and go all the time. Some of them are members of our network and some of them work on a voluntary basis.
But all of these 50 domestic workers are not working with cameras or pens and notebooks. Not all of them are reporters. They are assigned to each department. Some shoot video while some send the clips to us from Internet cafés. Some of them bring material to us in Thailand, and some of them do research and archives.
Q: Are all of these sections directly connected with the Chiang Mai office or the Oslo office? Who is responsible for the work?
A: Since the start of our office, its existence was known only to some senior bosses in Norway such as Khin Maung Win, Aye Chan Naing and some editors. The DVB news offices in Chiang Mai and other news offices in Mae Sot did not clearly know of our existence until 2010.
Q: When did these financial discrepancies occur and in which sections? How did you learn about it?
A: On financial reporting, according to our reporting system, we had only an output of news products and a rough accounting system. When the Oslo office gave us more funds for the expansion of our network, the financial reporting systems required by Khin Maung Win in Oslo were always changing. We don’t know exactly the reason they were changing the financial reporting systems: for reporting back to donors or something else.
We don’t have clear designations and job descriptions here. Some of us worked more and some of us occasionally worked on a weekly basis. … They also allowed us to enter their salaries on these reports as we wished for our convenience. That’s the way our system worked.
Our reports were not the same as our ground reality. We had to share our resources among our groups. Our network grew up with this system in 2009 and 2010. After that, our network grew rapidly and used a lot of funds but the (reporting) system remained unchanged.
But they informed us that the discrepancies were found in our accounts by their accountant, and they started cutting our budget in 2011, starting in August this year. And then we told them that we could not do all of our work with this reduced budget and asked for their response to our complaints. And then Executive Director Aye Chan Naing came to us and met us and discussed some matters and told us to continue our work with managers who are responsible for domestic reporters.
They told us later that their accountants found the discrepancies and shortages, but they didn’t reply to our questions in detail on how they found this shortage and how much it was. So the people working on the ground level here and the people administering the underground networks cannot yet resolve this matter.
Q: Why was such a big shortage found only now?
A: We cannot disclose exactly all of our domestic networks and inside work [in Burma] in consideration of the political reality, and the personal dignity and security of some of our people. During these times, network leaders report verbally and sometimes with [written] accounts.
So in our reports and accounts we had to enter their names differently in consideration of their security. Then when these reports and accounts were checked, the people who knew about the cases had already left this office. So there were no discrepancies in our accounts and no embezzlement in our office. This case of embezzlement appeared only when they did not take responsibility anymore for our (accounting and reporting) system. I think only their accountants can answer the questions of how much the shortage is and how this occurred.
From our side, we have already reported to them verbally about how we spent the funds not only in news reporting but also in spending on our news sources.
Q: What do think caused this to happen?
A: Since 2006, we have had no professional accountants in our network [operations] and our financial reporting and account systems have not been up to international standards. We worked with an underground style network and focused only on producing news. So the accounts will not be in conformity with our ground level work here. They had an understanding with us in this matter.
But this year, people in Oslo wanted to control these networks directly through them, and they wished to remove all the leading members of this underground network and then they made these allegations involving us, in a pretext of financial irregularities.
Q: So does this mean all groups in Mae Sot working with the domestic network have stopped their work?
A: We told them on September 19 with consensus that we were not in a position to continue our work with DVB anymore. We told Aye Chan Naing we would work with them in other ways if we could agree on how to do it. But we could not resolve this issue, and we are now trying to stand and work independently.
Some of us are continuing to work with DVB for the livelihood of their families, but 90 per cent of us resigned from DVB. We are exploring ways now about how to continue the running of the [Burma] network.
Khin Maung Win who had a gentlemen’s agreement (verbal agreement) with us in running this network has now irresponsibly resigned from his post and took no responsibility for us.
Q: How are you preparing to face trial for the embezzlement charge in the court?
A: Since this case appeared, the responsible administrator in Oslo suggested to us that this case could not be blamed only on a single person, and they needed to consult with the managers responsible for financial affairs whether they really spent these funds or not. If they look at the accounts only, some of these accounts of underground networks will not be complete. We have only human witnesses. I am one of the members of this VJ [Video Journalist] network. We are trying to prove our innocence only with these human witnesses and our work done for DVB.