Military Rejects Call to Return Unused Funds

By Htet Naing Zaw 31 July 2019

NAYPYITAW—During the Union Parliament session on Tuesday the Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) rejected a National League for Democracy (NLD) lawmaker’s proposal that it return the unused portion of the defense budget for the first half of the fiscal year.

Weeks ago, NLD lawmaker U Khin Cho called on the Defense Ministry to return the unused portion of its budget, as the ministry had only spent around 450 billion kyats (US$298.61 million) of the 1.2 trillion kyats it requested for the first half of fiscal 2018-19. The ministry sought 3.2 trillion kyats for the full fiscal year.

The lawmaker insisted that as the ministry had only used about 37 percent of the first-half budget, it should return the rest.

The government recently made changes to the country’s fiscal calendar. The first fiscal year under the new calendar commenced on Oct. 1, 2018 and will end on Sept. 30, 2019.

During Tuesday’s session, Deputy Defense Minister Major-General Myint Nwe told Parliament that, “The Defense Ministry will use [the budget] in time, in line with the instructions of the Planning and Finance Ministry.”

On Tuesday, ministries answered questions raised by lawmakers about the Union budgetary report for the first six months of fiscal 2018-19.

Maj-Gen Myint Nwe said his ministry spent 449 billion kyats in the first half, most of it on procurement and construction projects for which tenders had been invited.

“Permission for spending of 124.523 billion kyats, which was requested between January and March, was not received until April. So we were not able to use that money in the first six months,” the deputy minister said.

Lower House lawmaker U Aung Hlaing Win said, “The [deputy] defense minister denied asking for unnecessary funds. He said his ministry would spend the money it asked for, but it had only been able to spend 37 percent [so far] as it was inviting tenders.”

“It is not uncommon for other ministries not to spend the [full] 50 percent of the budget in the first six months. They often use 60 or 70 percent in the second half and return any surplus at the end of the fiscal year,” he added.

In fiscal 2017-18, the Defense Ministry requested a budget of over 2.9 trillion kyats. It has asked for 3.3 trillion kyats for fiscal 2019-20, though that has yet to be approved.

When asked during a recent press conference to comment on the reason for the defense budget increases, Tatmadaw spokesperson Brigadier-General Zaw Min Tun cited rising food prices and a weakening of the Myanmar currency.

“How much was the price of a bag of rice last year? How much is it this year? How much was a bottle of oil last year? How much is it this year? How much was the kyat-dollar exchange rate last year? How much is it this year? Check it out and you will have the answer,” Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun said.

The kyat has fallen against the US dollar since June last year, when the exchange rate was 1,345 per dollar. This month, the rate has stood at around 1,510 per dollar.