Parliament Approves $39Mln Chinese Loan to Boost Police Spending

By San Yamin Aung 12 March 2015

RANGOON — Burma’s Union Parliament on Wednesday approved a government proposal to accept a US$39 million Chinese loan that will be used to acquire vehicles and boats for the country’s police force.

An opposition lawmaker questioned Parliament’s decision to approve a high-interest foreign loan to boost police spending at a time when the force is coming under criticism for violently cracking down on unarmed demonstrators.

China’s Exim Bank offered a 4.5-percent interest loan to the Burmese government with a 20-year repayment period, which also comes with 0.8 percent in added charges and fees, said Myint Oo, a Lower House lawmaker representing the National League for Democracy (NLD) for Pegu Division’s Thanatpin Township. The loan has a five-year deferment period.

He said that during joint session of the Lower and Upper Houses around 400 lawmakers supported the bill, while 51 voted against.

Burma’s Parliament is dominated by the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party and a quarter of the seats are controlled by the army. Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD holds 45 seats, along with several seats held by smaller opposition parties.

Deputy Home Affairs Minister Brig-Gen. Kyaw Zan Myint told Parliament the Chinese loan was needed to expand Burma’s police vehicles and boats in order to secure public areas and waterways.

“Now, we are serving our duties more widely to ensure public security, rule of law and stability. The ministry is enlarging the current structure of the Myanmar Police Force to be able to do that and since more police are recruited, the [extra] vehicles and vessels are needed,” he was quoted as saying by state media.

The minister said the force “faces a 69.25 percent shortage of vehicles and vessels” due to the rapid expansion of its personnel, adding that the police currently have 2,945 vehicles. The procurement of the Chinese-funded vehicles and boats would be carried out in a transparent tender, he said.

Myint Oo said the NLD opposed the loan as it considered the Chinese interest rates too high compared to bilateral loan conditions offered by other countries such as Japan, which provides soft loans. “During discussions at Parliament we asked [the government] to reconsider since the interest rate is too high,” he said.

It is unclear if the new loan will be spent procuring vehicles and boats from Chinese manufacturers.

China was Burma’s staunchest political ally during past decades of brutal military rule and offered the junta loans, sold it weapons and sealed investment deals to tap the country’s rich natural resources.

Myint Oo said increasing police spending through the loan would have to come with guarantees that the force would improve its human rights record, in particular in light of the recent police crackdown on a protest at Letpadan, Pegu Division, where police beat up and arrested dozens of young students.

“We feel really sad about the recent incident and worry about the reform process since it is backtracking,” he said.

The Letpadan crackdown was the third heavy-handed police operation to suppress student protests in a week.

Burma’s police force, which has a long history of stifling domestic dissent, has been the target of efforts by the European Union to reform its operations. The EU directed 10 million euros ($11 million) in funding toward an 18-month program training Burma’s police on crowd control techniques.

The program was heavily criticized by students and human rights groups after the crackdowns.