Sunday, August 20, 2017

Hluttaw resumes with an eye toward budget amendment

Fresh from a stint back in their constituencies, members of parliament have now returned to Nay Pyi Taw for the second hluttaw session since last November’s elections. As the new session opens today, they face a range of issues, starting with a proposed revision of the budget law.

MPs stand while Speaker U Win Myint enters the Pyithu Hluttaw on March 11. Photo: Aung Khant / The Myanmar TimesMPs stand while Speaker U Win Myint enters the Pyithu Hluttaw on March 11. Photo: Aung Khant / The Myanmar Times

Normally, parliament passes budget bills in March or April, toward the end of the financial year, after protracted debate on the merits of the various proposals in the draft budget. But this year parliament, then controlled by the Union Solidarity and Development Party, decided in January to present the budget readymade to the incoming National League for Democracy government, resulting in a situation where outgoing members defeated at the polls were effectively tying the hands of their successors.

Last March, former Speaker Thura U Shwe Mann acknowledged that the K24 trillion (US$20 billion) budget for 2016-17 – which includes a K3 trillion deficit – had been passed in haste, and proposed a set of wide-ranging recommendations to the new government, including a review of the budget.

The January budget was adopted by a government comprising 33 ministries, a number that the incoming government cut to 22 by merging their functions. Last month, President U Htin Kyaw pledged to increase public spending on education, health and social security starting this fiscal year with revisions to the spending plan.

Now a combined parliamentary team, with representatives from the upper and lower houses, will examine proposals for revision and report to the joint public accounts committee over proposed alterations, after which they will be put to the hluttaw for approval.

U Hla Moe, secretary of the Pyithu Hluttaw rights committee from Aung Myay Tharzan township, Mandalay Region, said existing legislation was no longer appropriate for the new governmental structure and should be amended. Other laws requiring revision, he said, included those governing the right to peaceful assembly and procession, and the appointment of ward or village administrators. Revised drafts of those laws had been approved by the Amyotha Hluttaw and reported to the lower house.

“There are other troublesome laws that have to be looked at as well. Vendors at the Zeigyo Market, Mandalay, have asked me to raise in parliament the question of double taxation,” he said.

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Revised laws on freshwater fisheries, and the structure and membership of the city development committees of Yangon and Mandalay, will also be scrutinised in the hluttaw.

In addition to the five laws proposed by the Amyotha Hluttaw and awaiting final approval by the Pyithu Hluttaw, there are more than 40 questions, put by MPs, that await answers, as well as a proposal for reducing illegal drug use in northern Shan State, submitted by the state’s Amyotha Hluttaw MP Sai Wan Hlaing Kham.

Daw Nan Moe, Pyithu Hluttaw MP for Manton, Shan State, said, “Something must be done about displaced persons, who need accommodation and food. Also, some provision should be made for the coming winter.”

The MP’s attempt last May to spur parliamentary action on aid for the 400 people in her constituency displaced by armed conflict was frustrated when Speaker U Win Myint asked her to change her proposal into a question.

“That caused delay. The problems have not gone away, and the public may feel aggrieved that nothing has been done. I’m not going to give up on this,” she said.

On reviewing the performance of the first session of the hluttaw, human rights advocate U Hla Moe pronounced it fairly successful. “The hluttaw appointed a government that enjoys public support. That’s a big success in itself,” he said, adding that parliament had also agreed to appoint Daw Aung San Suu Kyi state counsellor.

“I know there are critics, but many incoming members had little or no experience. The coming session will be a very active one,” he said.

Translation by San Layy and Khine Thazin Han