Discussion Stalled on Amendments to Overnight Guest Registration Law

By Tin Htet Paing 18 August 2016

RANGOON — A bill to amend and repeal provisions of Burma’s colonial-era Ward or Village Tract Administration Law requiring citizens to report overnight guests continues to face hurdles in the Lower House of Parliament.

Three weeks ago, the Lower House Bill Committee recommended in its review report on the bill that all provisions regarding overnight guest registration from the original law should be reinserted with modifications. A parliamentary agenda featuring discussion on the bill has yet to be seen.

The bill committee told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that over 30 lawmakers had registered to table the bill in the Parliament. Concerned about limited availability of discussion time on the floor, the committee had to hold meetings with the registered lawmakers outside of the legislative session in order to first consolidate ideas.

“Similar ideas and recommendations should be combined so that the process in the parliament can be effective and [clearly] articulated,” said Tun Tun Hein, chair of the committee.

Originating in 1907, modified by the military-controlled Ministry of Home Affairs in 2012 and most recently updated in January 2016, the law requires citizens to inform local government officials when guests spend the night in their homes, regardless of how long the stay is.

International human rights watchdogs have criticized the law saying that it gives authorities the right to carry out warrantless household inspections and breach privacy; it was used, they say, to hunt down political activists under the military regime and the quasi-civilian government.

The new bill was passed by the Upper House in June removing articles 13(g) and 17 from the original law, which demand that citizens report overnight guests to ward and village tract administrators or get penalized for disobeying.

However, the bill still needs to gain approval of the Lower House and was submitted to the chamber by its bill committee after they had reviewed it. At this point, it was recommended that the removed provisions be reinstated, with the suggestion that penalties should only be imposed on violators who disobey the regulation “intentionally.”

Despite both houses being dominated by National League for Democracy (NLD) lawmakers, the two parliamentary bill committees have voiced differing narratives on the law.

During a parliamentary discussion in the Upper House in May, elected NLD lawmakers and military-appointed representatives had already met with divided opinions. Upper House military lawmakers stated that national security would be in jeopardy if the provisions of overnight guest registration were revoked, while NLD lawmakers argued that the new bill aligned with democratic norms and preserved freedom of movement for citizens.

Chair of the Lower House Bill Committee Tun Tun Hein told The Irrawaddy that a law should be enacted considering all regions in the country rather than a specific place, citing unstable security in some remote areas.

“Myanmar doesn’t consist of only one city,” he said. “There are border towns and rural places where such a law should still exist.”

He added that the committee would consider balancing national security and human rights standards.

Zaw Win, a member of the bill committee, told The Irrawaddy that the committee is trying to take into account all recommendations from lawmakers across the country.

“In some insurgent regions, such a law is necessary,” he said. “In the meantime, we have also heard some logistical examples of how the guest-reporting requirement was beneficiary to residents.”

However, he explained that the mandatory practice would be less pragmatic in some cities where there are large populations of migrant workers and university students.

Bill committee members were not able to say when discussions would be tabled in the Parliament. If the two chambers of the Parliament have different results regarding the bill, a final decision will be conceded by the Union Parliament.