Lawmakers Speak Favorably of Proposed Cabinet Cuts

By San Yamin Aung 18 March 2016

RANGOON — Lawmakers on Friday voiced support for a reduction in ministries comprising Burma’s incoming government, saying the proposal recently put forward by President-elect Htin Kyaw would save billions of kyats from the annual state budget.

On Thursday, Htin Kyaw of the National League for Democracy (NLD) submitted a proposal to Parliament to reduce the executive’s cabinet from its current 36 ministries to 21, including one new proposed ministry covering “ethnic affairs.” Under his proposal, 10 existing ministries are removed while some would be subsumed into others, with 10 ministries merged into five.

Five parliamentarians took to the floor of the legislature on Friday to voice support for the proposal, which they said would save “thousands of millions” of kyats, or hundreds of thousands of dollars, on salaries for ministers, their deputies and related expenses. The proposed eliminations and mergers would also establish an executive branch that was more efficient and compact, supporters said.

“I agree with the proposal as it will reduce the ministries, which number too many. We can save state funds, which can be applied in places requiring them,” said Je Yaw Wu, an Upper House lawmaker from Kachin State representing the National Unity Party (NUP).

“Since each ministry will cover all related operations and there won’t be separated branches by merging related ministries, the work will be done faster, in one-stop service [fashion], and the departments wouldn’t be able to act like they were playing volleyball [with responsibilities] as before,” Je Yaw Wu told lawmakers in Parliament.

The 15 ministers and their deputies in the ministries slated for elimination draw a combined annual salary of 900 million kyats ($750,000), assuming only one deputy per ministry—though some ministries in the current government have more. With other allocated expenditures for these officials, such as transportation, assistants’ salaries, maintenance of vehicles and other costs, savings would be in the billions, Je Yaw Wu said.

Currently, ministers are paid 3 million kyats per month, while their deputies earn 2 million kyats.

Four other lawmakers discussed the proposal during Friday’s session, backing the reductions as well as creation of the proposed Ethnic Affairs Ministry.

“Though an ‘Ethnic Affairs Ministry’ is a new one, it is very important for national reconciliation and ethnic lawmakers were pushing that for a long time,” Je Yaw Wu said.

Ba Shein from the Arakan National Party (ANP) also supported the proposal, and asked for an explanation on which of the newly configured ministries would take on the portfolios of the existing Ministry of Mines, Ministry of Cooperatives, Ministry of Sports and Ministry of Science and Technology, which are not on the proposed list.

Htin Kyaw will explain his proposal during an upcoming parliamentary session on Monday, when he is expected to seek lawmakers’ approval.

A reduction of government ministries was one pledge put forward in the NLD’s election manifesto, “in order to decrease government expenditure and establish a lean and efficient government.”

The proposal submitted to Parliament did not provide information on expected savings, or offer details on how the administrative shakeup would play out. The NLD has previously sought to assuage concerns that the structural reforms would lead to significant redundancies among the ranks of Burma’s civil servants.

A senior NLD member said early this year that the party was still mulling whether to eliminate the post of deputy minister in the ministries it put forward this week.