The Irrawaddy

Yangon’s Govt and Parliament at Odds

U Kyaw Zeya, the lawmaker representing Dagon Township in Yangon’s regional Parliament, recently spoke to The Irrawaddy’s Thazin Hlaing about the recent confrontation between the regional Parliament and government over the latter’s proposal to purchase 10 Ford cars for government officials and invest nearly 7 billion kyats (US$5.1 million) in the city’s municipal bank to engage in overseas banking services.

The regional government has proposed a number of long-term projects two and half years into taking office. Why does it want to implement so many projects?

We have been waiting for a long time to discuss the new Yangon city project, which people are interested in. The regional government finally presented it at the sixth regular session of Parliament. But it is presenting projects in an unreasonable manner.

It has proposed projects related to local and foreign investment, agricultural and development, a deep-sea port, and urban development. But none of the projects were acceptable to lawmakers. They were incomplete and we demanded additional details.

Why did lawmakers find those projects unacceptable?

We are halfway through our term and most of the proposed projects were long-term ones. We want short-term projects that can deliver tangible results to the people during our term. But the regional government keeps presenting long-term plans.

Considering how the Yangon Bus Service (YBS) upgrade went, some Yangon residents say that the regional government can’t walk the walk. What is your assessment as a lawmaker?

This was a daydream from the start. When the YBS was introduced, the regional chief minister said that the YBS would be successful within one year. [Regional minister] Daw Nilar Kyaw also echoed this. Their dream was that wealthy people who owned their own cars would start using the YBS for daily transportation because the service would be that good. I’d love it if that were a reality.

But it has been a year and a half now. I don’t want to say whether the YBS is a success. Just take a look. Are buses uncrowded during rush hour? Have private buses stopped operating? Change [for bus fare] is scarce. The card [payment] system still can’t be used. There are still troubles. This is a project that was boldly implemented by the Yangon regional government. Its progress is slow because the management was not good from the very beginning.

What priorities do you think the regional government should set?

It has been more than two years and we are not yet on the right track. In the next two years, we have to double our stride on the right track. The Yangon regional government tried to do one thing. We declared in our election manifesto that we would make sure that people who are homeless either because of their economic conditions or disaster can live in proper dwellings with human dignity.

The regional chief minister made a list of squatters to provide them with proper housing. We lawmakers have time and again asked about this [at Parliament]. The regional security affairs minister replied that more than 2,000 apartments had been built for squatters.

However, how many squatters have been given those apartments so far? The regional government has issued smart cards and squatters are waiting with great expectations [to get an apartment]. If the government can address the problem successfully, it will win the support of the people in the next two years. It would also solve the problem of people squatting in factory compounds in industrial zones.

Is it that the regional government can’t manage this project properly?

We need laws to bring about good management. There are a lot of difficulties facing those who are implementing this on the ground. It is easier said than done to implement projects. But speaking of the management of the regional government, you can see what it’s like at just a glance.

It said it would establish industrial zones in 11 townships at the same time. Why doesn’t it implement it one after another? If they are viable, foreign investment will come. But now, they are disappointed with the current situation. There is plenty of room for improvement in the management of the regional government. Its management is impromptu.

Do you think the regional government should continue with its city expansion project?

The previous governments established new satellite towns such as Hlaing Tharyar, Shwepyithar, and Dagon townships. Those townships still lack many utilities. There is not sufficient power or water supply. Plots of land were permitted for residential purposes, but houses still haven’t been built there. And farming can’t be done on those lands. The government should focus on fixing these problems. Even places like Shwepyithar and Hlaing Tharyar have wards and villages that do not have electricity, and the regional government says it will establish industrial zones on the outskirts of Yangon.

It should fulfill the requirements of those townships first, rather than undertake big projects just for show. People know what they want and what the government is providing.

There has been a lot of friction between the government and Parliament? Is this a good or bad sign?

There must be checks and balances between the government and Parliament.

It is good that Parliament boldly points out when the government needs to be checked and balanced. Mostly, people accept this.

What do you want to say about the regional government doing business?

The government has formed public companies. There is no such company in the other 13 regions and states. Only the Yangon regional government is running companies. Personally, I oppose this. The government should not do business. The job of the municipality [Yangon City Development Committee] is to deliver public services [not to operate overseas banking services].

Every year the municipality faces a budget deficit [its revenues from tax collection do not meet its expenditures], and additional funds are given from the Union budget [to meet the expenditures]. But it should operate with its own fund. This is the reason it gave for doing business – to increase its revenues.

If it wants to do business, it needs to do it in line with the law and with transparency.

People are frustrated that the government said one thing while it was the opposition, and another after it took office. What do you want to say to people about this?

The government has said it is time for change. Don’t blame the legacy of the previous governments. The current government has to bear both good and bad legacies. Now, people are frustrated. Eighty percent of the people are frustrated. It is the same in Parliament.

We have not been able to accomplish what we had said. Our leaders also accept that we have yet to do so. There are many challenges. Our country still can’t achieve peace. And there is also Rakhine issue to handle.

Take a look at the previous by-election. We won the vote, but the voter turnout was very low compared to that of the 2015 election. People didn’t want to vote for the NLD or any party, so they didn’t go to the polling stations and turnout was low. This is not good for the country or the party. It is a real cause for concern.

What result do you expect in 2020 election?

As for Yangon Region, the regional government has to double its efforts to present itself as acceptable to the people. Otherwise, its chances are not very good.

Some criticize that Parliament is deliberately going against the government. What would you want to say about that?

No, we don’t deliberately defy them. Take a public poll and you will see that people support us. But the economy of our country is not good yet. We want our chief ministers to ride in Ford cars. That demand isn’t unreasonable. If our economy were good, we would even agree to them traveling in helicopters and planes, not just Ford cars.

But their demand is unreasonable considering the reality of the country. There are other things we can consider if old vehicles are beyond repair. They could ask for funds from the Union budget. Although there is criticism that we defy Parliament, some 80 percent of the public supports our efforts.

This interview was edited for clarity and brevity.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.