RANGOON — Burma’s Lower House of Parliament on Monday passed a bill abolishing provisions of the country’s Ward or Village Tract Administration Law which required citizens to report overnight guests to authorities.
In a heated day-long parliamentary session on Monday, National League for Democracy (NLD) lawmaker U Myint Tun from Sagaing Division’s Taze Township said that such undemocratic legislation should be abolished and questioned its use.
“I don’t believe that overnight guest registration serves the safety or security of the public,” he said. “Such a requirement is a burden on the people, while criminals would simply not report overnight guests,” he continued.
Lower House Speaker U Win Myint oversaw a secret ballot in which 235 voted for the repeal of overnight guest registration and 155 voted for provisions to remain.
The law requires citizens to inform local government officials of guests who spend the night in their homes, regardless of how long the stay is.
Originating in 1907 under British colonial rule, the law was modified by the military-controlled Ministry of Home Affairs in 2012 and recently updated in January 2016.
The deputy minister for Home Affairs Maj-Gen Aung Soe defended the provisions regarding the guest registration requirement, saying it provides fundamental data about the population’s location.
“The weak points in this law were not the fault of the law itself, but of the administrators acting on it,” he said.
The bill was passed in the Upper House in early June, abolishing the provisions of guest registration requirement. It was submitted to the lower chamber in late July but has faced hurdles to come to agreement with decisions made by the upper chamber.
The Lower House Bill Committee recommended in a report to the legislature in July that all provisions regarding overnight guest registration from the original colonial-era law be reinserted.
Lower House military representative Col Tun Myat Shwe said during the debate that the upper chamber repealed the provisions of the law with a majority of the votes in NLD-dominated legislature. He said the move neglected security concerns of the country.
International human rights watchdogs have criticized the law saying that it grants authorities the right to carry out warrantless household inspections and breaches privacy. It was used to hunt down political activists under the military regime and the quasi-civilian government, they say.
Lawmaker U Myint Tun proposed a provision that requires guests who stay in a ward or village for more than one month to inform the relevant administration office.
He said that without such registration, preparing voter lists and providing humanitarian assistance to disaster victims will be difficult. He used cities like Mogok, where there is a large population of migrant workers whose household registration is elsewhere.
He proposed that no action be taken against those who fail to follow the requirements. “It’s just to inform, not to report,” U Myint Tun said.
In the same session, The Lower House passed a provision on the qualifications for ward and village administrators as passed by the Upper House. The provision states candidates must have resided in the ward or village where they will run for election for at least five years, revising the original law’s 10-year minimum.
The legislature also decided that candidates for the position of administrator should have “appropriate education,” as required under the original provision, altering the decision of the Upper House, which required candidates to have graduated from middle school.
The bill will be resubmitted to the Upper House to decide on this provision.