RANGOON — Arakan National Party (ANP) lawmakers were not happy about a low fiscal year 2017 Arakan State budget proposal from the Union government, with local sources highlighting the state’s struggle with both widespread poverty and ongoing conflict.
For fiscal year 2017, which begins on April 1, the national government proposed a 142 billion kyat budget for Arakan State, which is 3 billion kyats less than the previous fiscal year.
“Our Rakhine region is poor, and they all know it,” ANP lawmaker U Pe Than told The Irrawaddy. “They often say that Rakhine needs to have more development and stability. They know this region has communal conflict in part because this region is so poor.”
Arakan State is one of the poorest regions in the country. Because of the intense need for development, the Union government should assign a larger budget to Arakan State than last year, U Pe Than added.
Lawmakers said they are waiting for a response from the Union government, and they expect that a larger budget will eventually be approved.
“Our region is the poorest region, so we cannot understand why they would reduce our budget,” said U Pho Min, the Arakan State parliament vice house speaker.
Arakanese lawmakers also complained that the current budgeting process is not based on a federal system, which would permit ethnic regions to have greater fiscal control. According to the 2008 Constitution, the Union government is assigned the power to make state-level budget decisions.
“We’re not even allowed to know how much money they are making by selling our state’s natural resources,” said U Pho Min. “There must be more transparency. And we should have an opportunity to spend the revenue from our natural resources on development within our own region.”
Although the Union government builds infrastructure projects in Arakan State, the state does not have power to choose which projects are implemented.
For fiscal 2017, Rangoon Division was budgeted over 400 billion kyats, nearly three times the amount assigned to Arakan State. Arakanese lawmakers believe this budget difference illustrates how the national government feels about ethnic regions.
“They’re spending a lot of the national budget on the Yangon region,” said U Pe Than. “But this region is developed already. At the same time, they give very little money to our ethnic region. This will only widen the development gap between the urban center and our state.”
We need to reduce the gap between Yangon and the state regions, he added.
“We want the Union government to give more power to the states,” said Pe Than, “so we will keep pushing for a more federal system.”