RANGOON – The Union Parliament approved a budget of 20.59 trillion kyats for the 2017-2018 fiscal year on Friday—lower than the proposed budget of more than 20.89 trillion kyats.
On the last day of the current legislative session, the Union Parliament agreed to the recommendations of the joint bill committee to cut the budgets of 17 ministries and 12 Union-level organizations, while the budget for a few ministries, including the Ministry of Defense, remained intact.
“The Parliament cut unnecessary expenses, but approved the amount which was needed,” said Sai Moon of the Lechar constituency in northeastern Shan State.
The cuts from ministries and Union-level organizations included the suspension of 130 existing and future projects by the Ministry of Industry under the National Planning Bill for 2017-2018, which was approved on Wednesday by the Parliament.
Lower House lawmaker U Aung Min of the joint public accounts committee said the cuts followed a systematic review of the projects by the committee. He told The Irrawaddy that projects whose budgets were overestimated, and those that were not deemed necessary, were cut.
The budget cuts, which totalled more than 300 billion kyats, did not apply to the ministries of defense, tourism or information, or to the Constitutional Court. The highest percentage of the budget was directed to the ministries of national planning, at nearly 22 percent of the total, electricity and energy—20 percent—and defense, at more than 13 percent. Education and health received a combined 13 percent.
The budget for the defense ministry for 2017-18 was estimated at 2.9 trillions kyats, or nearly 14 percent of the total budget requested.
The 13 budget assessment committees, formed to review the 2017-18 budget proposal, assessed the proposals from each ministry.
None of the committees raised the prospect of budget cuts to the defense ministry; therefore the Union speaker went ahead with the approval, according to a lawmaker and member of the Union Parliament Joint Bill Committee who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“The intact military budget could be due to the policy of national reconciliation of the Burma Army,” said the lawmaker.
The amount of spending on the defense ministry has led to questions over the Burma Army’s commitment to peace and national reconciliation as wars continue in northern Shan State.
Lower House lawmaker U Aung Min said that the budget for defense was not cut in order to “support the military becoming a ‘standard’ army.”
Regarding the budget decisions, parliamentarians have to follow the majority ruling, lawmakers said.
Some members of each House’s bill committee and public accounts committee revealed that they were unclear about budget decisions made, as they were not in the budget assessment committees.
Sai Poe Myat, from Shan State’s Muse constituency, who is also a member of the Lower House bill committee but not in any of budget assessment committees, told The Irrawaddy: “We all expect [to achieve the goals of] this delicate peace process, and we have to be very careful in raising debate in Parliament,” when asked why lawmakers did not voice concern over the military budget request.
Htet Naing Zaw contributed to this report from Naypyidaw.