Auditor-General Raises Concerns That Yangon MPs Can’t Properly Debate Govt Spending Without Her Full Report

By Kyaw Phyo Tha 13 January 2020

YANGON—The auditor-general of Yangon has voiced displeasure at only being allowed to submit a partial report on the Yangon government’s spending to the regional parliament, rather than the full one, raising concerns about whether lawmakers are being denied the information they need to properly scrutinize the government’s spending.

Daw Khin Than Hla delivered a summary of her findings on the government’s expenditure for fiscal 2017-18 to the Yangon regional parliament last week.

Annually, her office prepares the report and submits its full findings to the Yangon parliament as required by the Union Auditor-General Law. It’s also customary to send copies of the report to each regional lawmaker in advance so they can study it before joining parliamentary debates on the government’s spending.

According to Section 25(d) of the Union Auditor-General Law updated in 2018, regional auditors-general must submit their reports to the chief minister of their region or state and to the regional or state Hluttaw (parliament) simultaneously.

However, the Yangon regional government last year intervened to limit distribution of the auditor-general’s full report on the regional administration’s spending in fiscal 2017-18 to just Yangon Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein and Yangon Parliament Speaker U Tin Muang Tun—not to lawmakers, who collectively comprise the Yangon parliament. The chief minister and speaker assigned the parliament’s Public Accounts Committee to review the report, rather than delivering copies to every lawmaker for their prior review, as was the case in previous years.

As the current Yangon government took office in 2016, the auditor-general’s report for fiscal 2017-18 is an assessment of the U Phyo Min Thein administration’s management of public funds in its second year in office.

The Public Accounts Committee said the 2017-18 audit report was blocked in order to bring the regional parliament’s procedures in line with those of the Union Lower House, which does not allow prior review by lawmakers of audit reports. But there has been speculation that the restriction reflects the government’s desire to avoid a repeat of regional lawmakers’ fiery debate over irregularities in government spending found in the fiscal 2016-17 report.

Based on the contents of the full report, lawmakers in the Yangon parliament in 2018 raised questions about the loss of US$2.3 million (3.5 billion kyats) of public funds spent on the city bus service, and the regional government’s borrowing of 13.5 billion kyats from two private banks for school buses without the parliament’s knowledge. To the government’s embarrassment, a lawmaker even said the Yangon government had abused its power by investing 10 billion kyats in a controversial new city project without the parliament’s approval.

On Wednesday, with the parliament Speaker’s approval, Auditor-General Daw Khin Than Hla read out the summary of her findings to the parliament for nearly two hours, covering such issues as the Yangon government’s failure to fine private businesses for overdue lease payments and tax evasion, as well as the purchase of a costly generator, among others.

In previous years, she only needed to provide a verbal summary of her findings to lawmakers because copies of the full report had already been distributed to them.

But this year, the Yangon government only allowed copies of a summary of the report to be distributed to lawmakers, leaving them in the dark in terms of the report’s details, according to the auditor-general.

“We have detailed our findings in the original [full] report. How could you call a summary a complete one?” she said.

The auditor-general told The Irrawaddy she felt that her office’s yearlong effort was wasted, because distribution of the full report was blocked. She said she was worried about lawmakers’ ability to raise questions in the parliament about irregularities in the government’s spending.

“I’m afraid it will be difficult for them [to prepare] for their discussions,” she added, because lawmakers will have to rely on the summary this time, rather than the full report they received in previous years.

Daw Khin Than Hla said when the reports for fiscal 2015-16 and 2016-17 were submitted, full versions were delivered to every lawmaker in the Yangon parliament in line with Section 25(d) of the Union Auditor-General Law.

“For this year, it’s quite different,” she said.

National League for Democracy lawmaker U Kyaw Zay Ya said the auditor-general seemed to be under pressure from “upstairs”, despite having done her work dutifully. He shared Daw Khin Than Hla’s concerns that lawmakers will lack detailed information with which to discuss the report’s findings.

“Of course, it could weaken our debates, as we don’t know the details,” he said.