The Irrawaddy

MPs Express Frustration with Ministers

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and cabinet members in May 2016. (Photo: Htet Naing Zaw / The Irrawaddy)

NAYPYIDAW — Burma’s lawmakers are increasingly frustrated by what they say is ministers’ ignorance of the everyday problems facing citizens, The Irrawaddy has learned.

Members of Parliament accused ministers of merely reading out documents prepared by subordinates in parliamentary discussions and urged them to investigate the situation on the ground properly when responding to questions.

Under parliamentary procedures lawmakers ask questions on behalf of their constituents in Burma’s two houses and concerned ministers or deputy ministers are obliged to address their concerns.

Lawmakers complained that ministers and deputy ministers appointed by the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) came to Parliament to read reports prepared by permanent secretaries or directors-general. In most cases their answers were far from the reality on the ground, they said.

Lower House lawmaker from Kachin State’s Hpakant Township U Tin Soe told The Irrawaddy that in his experience, ministers often evaded issues and “could hardly answer any relevant questions.”

“We are quite frustrated by it,” he added.

U Tin Soe said that over-mining of jade has had a serious impact on his constituents, but that the natural resources minister told him that jade would not be exhausted in Hpakant as only 7,000 out of 1,700,000 jade fields had obtained permission for mining.

Lawmaker U Sein Win of Irrawaddy Division’s Maubin Township, said ministers should “do their homework” before coming to the Parliament to answer questions. He said ministers should meet and discuss issues with those directly involved.

“Their answers are different from the situation on the ground,” said U Sein Win.

Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Settlement Dr. Win Myat Aye said that ministers prepare well and that it was difficult to respond to decisions made by previous governments.

“We have experts in respective departments who draft reports for us and we take time reading the reports,” said Dr. Win Myat Aye.

“We read the questions by lawmakers and find out what the point is, and check if the reports prepared by concerned departments are satisfactory or not. If the reports do not answer their questions, we ask departments to collect data again. Sometimes we have to do this two or three times,” he said.

Lawmakers also said that regime change has only taken place at the top and is yet to reach the entire administration. “In each ministry, only the minister has changed—they don’t even have a confidant,” said Lower House lawmaker for Thanlyin Township U Lwin Ko Latt.

Bureaucracy is still rife in ministries and changes need to be made to ensure effective public service, said an assistant director of the Ministry of Health and Sports on the condition of anonymity.

“Previously, all the positions of power were held by former military officers, and scholars resigned as they didn’t want to work under such people,” said the assistant director. “If problems like this can be solved, we’ll be able to solve other problems.”

Lawmakers recommended that ministers leave their offices and meet people on the ground.

“But I don’t want them to travel by helicopter to meet businessmen and leave after a while—they must learn thoroughly,” said lawmaker U Tin Soe.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko