RANGOON — Burma’s Union Parliament on Tuesday approved its annual spending bill, with expenses totaling more than 20 trillion kyats (US$19.3 billion) for the fiscal year that began this month.
The total budget of 20.6 trillion kyats represents a seven percent increase over last year, but is markedly lower than the initial proposal submitted by President Thein Sein’s cabinet in January, which requested 23.2 trillion kyats.
Burma’s annual budget is based on regular expenditures and the capital of each government ministry. Lawmakers said that new expenses this year mostly fall under regular expenditures such as costs of petrol, guest stipends and vehicle maintenance.
About 38 billion kyats of the requested budget were trimmed from government ministries, after lawmakers requested that they resubmit their budgets on the grounds that they were calculated on high price estimates that exceeded the actual value.
Ministries trimmed their budgets by about two percent with the exception of the ministries of defense and home affairs, according to Lower House parliamentarian Sandar Min of the National League for Democracy (NLD).
The Ministry of Defense requested about 2.7 billion kyats, while the Ministry of Home Affairs requested 2.8 billion. A ministerial breakdown of the approved budget is not yet publicly available, though lawmakers said that those numbers were mostly unchanged.
After four years of parliamentary approval for the national budget, lawmakers said that while there is still room for improvement on how Burma prioritizes and balances spending, members of Parliament are actively trying to improve their capacity and skill in budget management and are becoming more vigilant of government expenditures.
In some instances, budgets for expenses such as roads and other infrastructure were cut because they were built on inaccurate estimates, according to ethnic Arakanese lawmaker Aye Maung, who represents the Arakan National Party.
Lawmakers also urged government ministries to carefully assess whether their proposals are beneficial to citizens, finding that some ministries had previously been granted funds for projects that ultimately failed.
One such example, said Sandar Min, was an unsuccessful rural housing and sanitation project initiated by the Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries and Rural Development several years ago. Despite failing each year to meet its goals, the ministry requested 11 billion kyats for its continuation.
“The minister [Ohn Myint] said the budget cut shouldn’t happen this year. He said that if the Parliament wants to cut, they should do it next year,” said Sandar Min. “This is an avoidance of accountability.”
Some minority lawmakers also criticized the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party for what they called “unnecessary spending” on new government posts that have not yet proven useful or accountable, while long-neglected sectors such as health and education still suffer from budgetary shortfalls.