Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – The first three days of the Burmese Parliament has gotten off to a slow start, but it’s a bit different from the first regular session, according to a survey of MPs by Mizzima.
The second regular session of Parliament, which started on Monday, is showing small signs of improvement, according to sources.
Looking back at the first session in March, some MPs accused state ministers of blowing “their own trumpets” in windy speeches. They said, however, that a sign of progress this session is that the reporters are now allowed access to cover Parliament sessions.
“In the past, these ministers blew their own trumpets by spending half an hour or an hour on the stage. We had to listen to their marathon speeches helplessly. Now they sit at their seats and answer the questions raised by MPs when necessary,” Upper House MP Phone Myint Aung said.
For example, Union Health Minister Dr. Pe Thet Khin revealed in Parliament on Tuesday that the allotted budget for the Health Ministry fell far short of what is needed to serve the country. MP Phone Myint Aung called his comments one of the frankness in the Parliament.
“The Union health minister said on Wednesday that his department did not receive the required money necessary for the ministry. In the past, we never received such information. So it’s become a little more transparent,” he said.
Health Minister Pe Thet Khin said that the required annual health budget was about 8 billion kyat (US$ 12 million) but the allotted budget was 3.5 billion kyat (US$ 4.86 million). He said government hospitals would not be able to provide the required medicines and services needed to serve the public.
Likewise, The Irrawaddy Web site reported on Wednesday that Parliament Public Accounts Committee Secretary Maung Toe disclosed on Tuesday that the total national budget was 5,781.738 billion kyat (US$ 8 billion). He said that estimated expenditures would be 7,983.188 billion kyat (US$ 11 billion), indicating a budget deficit of more than 2 trillion kyat (US$ 3 billion).
Noting the Parliament’s methods of conducting business and the interplay between MPs and government ministers of the ruling party, Lower House MP Kyi Myint said, “There is not much difference. But media people can come and cover the Parliament news now. They can take photographs and they can record the proceedings. So these are improvements.”
A domestic journal reporter who is now covering the Parliament said that the distribution of documents and bulletins was still inadequate and police security personnel were overly cautious in monitoring the activities of reporters. He said reporters were not satisfied with the level of freedom they are experiencing so far.
This week the state-run media censored the budget deficit figures and the shortfall in the healthcare budget in their published articles. Some media personnel accused Information Minister Kyaw Hsan of censoring news that was presented in open Parliament sessions.
Another shortfall, said MPs, was that the time allotted for deliberations in the first regular session was not adequate, which drew a great deal of criticism from MPs and the public. The Yangon Times journal citied legal consultant Than Maung who said that MPs’ presentations were too short and they could not put the issues into a proper framework. It’s not yet known if MPs will be given more time to present their concerns during open sessions.
Also, MPs cited an uncooperative attitude on the part of some local government officials. MP Thein Nyunt said in the same article: “Four MPs from our party made field trips to our constituencies. Rather than assisting us, the local authorities offered no cooperation at all. Some local authorities have not yet transformed in accordance with the new system. They still see MPs who are not from the ruling party as the opposition.”
In addition, some MPs noted that the MPs in Parliament who were appointed as military representatives, accounting for 25 per cent of the seats, did not make any deliberations in the parliament proceedings on transport, education and health issues. They attend the Parliament as if they are observers, said one MP.
“I think they will deliberate only on Armed Forces affairs and Defence affairs. They have not said anything so far,” he said.
Meanwhile in Parliament business on Wednesday, Upper House MP Tun Myint of Sagaing Region Constituency No. 6 moved a motion to consider providing education for children who live in forest reserve areas.
This motion was discussed by MP Shu Maung of Shan State Constituency No. 8, who said that building schools in forest reserve areas would cause the loss of forest areas and objected to the motion.
Upper House MP Dr. Mya Oo moved a motion to make more investment in the health sector and Dr. Myint Kyi moved a motion to improve doctorate degrees conferred in Burma. The Parliament will decide whether these motions will be deliberated on Thursday.
Lower House MP Kyi Myint of the Latha constituency in Rangoon Region moved two motions on Tuesday: to abolish the export duty for faster economic growth and to reduce investment costs, and to form a watchdog agency to monitor economic stimulus expenses during the fiscal year. Three lower house MPs objected to the motions on Wednesday and Kyi Myint withdrew the motions.
Bahan constituency MP Dr. Maung Maung Wint moved a motion to form a medical council as a professional body not controlled by the government and to form an organization to legally protect medical professionals. The motions will be discussed at a later date.
MP Aung Thein Linn from the USDP party moved a motion to renovate damaged and dilapidated primary school buildings and to establish privately run basic education primary schools in cooperation with the public. The motion will be discussed at a later date.
Lower House MP Thein Nyunt moved a motion to abolish the 1926 Contempt of Court Act, which will be taken up again on Thursday.
Lower house MP Thein Nyunt raised a question on whether poetry and school lessons relating to Independence hero General Aung San were taught in primary schools. The education minister replied that lessons related to Aung San had dropped off after 1988, but now the lessons are being taught in primary schools.
Parliament sessions started on Wednesday at 10 a.m.; Upper House proceedings concluded at 3 p.m.; Lower House sessions concluded at 4 p.m.