In Person

Mon State Speaker: ‘Our Challenge is That Parliamentarians Only Have Pen and Paper’

By Nyein Nyein 20 March 2017

MOULMEIN, Mon State — Mon State parliament speaker Daw Tin Ei told Irrawaddy reporter Nyein Nyein what the regional parliament had achieved in its first year, and what it will be working towards in the new parliamentary session.

With regards to the Moulmein-Chaungzon bridge, the Union Parliament approved the new name—the Gen Aung San Bridge—despite local objections. Do you think the bridge’s name should reflect the desires of local people?

I prefer not to answer that question. I have listened to people’s voices throughout the region every day. In the meantime, the Lower House proposed [and debated and approved] the name. I would not like to comment on it.

The people of Mon State have submitted an objection letter to both state and Union parliaments with regards to the bridge. Is there anything you can do for them?

Their letters of objection on renaming the bridge arrived before it was discussed in the Lower House. At that time, our parliament was in recess and we could not do anything. Then the Lower House approved the motion and thus we could not do anything about it.

Is there anything you can do within the law?

Regarding this issue, there is no legislation. Locals have the right to demonstrate. So we, the state parliament, will not favor either side—the people or the government.

What challenges have you faced as speaker of the parliament?

Our parliament has three key responsibilities: to legislate, to oversee the government’s activities, and to listen to the people. We have served to the best of our abilities since the Mon State parliament started in February 2016.

Our township representatives have listened to the voices of locals, on what they need and what they want the government to do. We have parliamentary affairs committees to tackle their complaints, as well as six other committees on ethnic affairs, legislation, economic projects, budget assessment, environmental preservation and protection, and a lawmaker scrutiny committee. We have a total of 21 lawmakers, including the speaker, deputy speaker, and military appointees, in the Mon State parliament. We all have different tasks at the parliament. The committee dealing with complaints has the most work to do.

In our area, land disputes are a major problem. Cases have occurred in the last decade or two in which people said things like: “our land was confiscated to build a hospital, but nothing was built and our land was never returned.” We have to solve these issues one by one.

Our challenge is that parliamentarians only have pen and paper, we do not control the ministries and departments. We have to go to the areas and investigate whether the claims are true. We listen to both sides and categorize the issues and send that to the state government. But most of the time we do not receive a reply from the state government. They may have reasons for this, but we cannot serve the people fully. This is our challenge.

We also regularly urge the government to answer our questions; which is one of their pledges they made to the parliament. For the last year, the state government has been weak in following the parliament’s rules. Therefore, we cannot serve our public one hundred percent.

What motions and bills are scheduled to be discussed in this parliamentary session?

We sent our proposed motions and bills to the state government 15 days before parliament resumed on March 15.

In this session, we will focus on our budget proposal. The state government will propose the state budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year. We will discuss and pass a bill to approve the budget.

The government will also submit proposals related to other local projects. I think they will also submit a bill on salt farming and the Mon State auditor general will submit its report. As stated in the Constitution, the Mon State government will also submit its bi-yearly report to the parliament.

What bills is parliament drafting at the moment?

Our parliament passed the small- and medium-project electricity law in early 2017.

We are now drafting the Mon State Municipal Law [amendment bill], which was originally enacted on Dec. 29, 2015. We reviewed whether it is still relevant and how much it has benefited people. We have been reviewing it for almost nine months. We listened to people from all ten townships in the two districts of Mon State, including the perspectives of civil society groups.

We gave it time, as we wanted a strong law. We also listened to the state chief of justice’s view on the “punishment” section of the bill regarding the actions municipal officers can take against those who do not comply with the regulations.

What is the state parliament doing to help to protect the victims of child rape?

Regarding the protection of women, children, and migrants, we do not have specific state laws. But we cannot ignore these issues. While the police take control of security, civil society groups, political parties, and parliamentarians need to keep our eyes on the situation. We are trying to prevent these cases as well as improve protection.

Is the parliament working on any draft bills to do with the economy in Mon State?

We are in the process of reviewing the existing laws, to decide whether they really are benefiting the public. Currently, we are following previous legislation. In our second parliamentary session, we enacted an [economy] bill, but we are still working on the municipal bill.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

All the elected parliamentarians in Mon State are trying to fulfill the needs of the public—to let them live peacefully as well as create more job opportunities. We always listen to the people’s voices, so any future laws will also be centered on the public’s needs.