Myanmar state media announced the resignation of electricity and energy minister Pe Zin Tun on Wednesday, prompting speculation about the reasons for his abrupt departure.
The minister was on extended sick leave from July 10 to 31, during which time construction minister Win Khaing took over responsibilities for the electricity and energy portfolio. Win Khaing has since been confirmed as Pe Zin Tun’s official replacement.
Government spokesman Zaw Htay has said that Pe Zin Tun’s resignation was entirely voluntary. However, The Irrawaddy has reported that rumors about the former minister’s personal life have begun circulating since his resignation.
Unconfirmed reports say Pe Zin Tun’s subordinates filed a complaint about him to the cabinet, citing his so-called “playboy lifestyle.”
Furthermore, an official from the electricity and energy ministry told The Irrawaddy: “Before he became a minister, he had some issues with his social life. Some people have found fault with it,” adding that Pe Zin Tun was divorced and had not remarried.
Policy experts, however, attribute the reshuffle to the former minister’s performance in government.
A holdover from the Thein Sein administration, Pe Zin Tun has been perceived as presiding over a ministry that has failed to provide clear direction for the power sector and has waffled on major policy decisions, such as the future of the China-backed Myitsone dam and the reduction of electricity subsidies.
His tenure has also been marked by slowing growth in Myanmar’s foreign investments and GDP, which dropped from 7.3 percent in the 2015-16 fiscal year to 6.5 percent the following year, according to the World Bank. The economic downturn is thought to be closely linked to the country’s power crisis, in which cities experience regular blackouts, and only a third of the population is connected to the national power grid.
“International investors would like to see more clarity on energy policy. It is presently very difficult to say exactly what Myanmar’s energy plans are,” Yangon-based researcher Jeremy Mullins told Reuters last month.
These explanations seem to have been partially confirmed by a deputy director general within the electricity and energy ministry, who told The Irrawaddy: “U Pe Zin Tun rarely went outside [for inspection tours]. He only sat in the office. As he didn’t go outside, he could not demonstrate his performance.”
Yangon-based analyst Richard Horsey told Reuters that the appointment of construction minister Win Khaing as the new energy minister reflected Aung San Suu Kyi’s “focus on electricity and roads as drivers of growth and jobs.”