Parliament Awaits Government Support on Urgent Proposals

By Tin Htet Paing 1 March 2016

RANGOON — Since opening in early February, the Upper and Lower Houses of Burma’s new Parliament—dominated by lawmakers from the National League for Democracy (NLD)—have initiated multiple democratic proceedings to which ruling government officials have yet to offer support.

Lawmakers of different party backgrounds have submitted five urgent proposals in recent weeks that have been backed by a majority of parliamentarians, but to which central government officials have not responded.

Union Parliament Speaker Mahn Win Khaing Than forwarded the first such urgent motion to lawmakers on February 8, requesting that all MPs make a monetary donation from their daily stipends to victims affected by fires in Shan State’s Namhsan Township and Labutta Township in Irrawaddy Division.

Parliamentarian Sai Tun Aung, representing the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) and hailing from Kyaukme Township in Shan State, submitted a proposal to the Lower House on February 16 calling for an end to fighting between the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and later, the Burma Army. He asked that the Parliament discuss an immediate ceasefire and the provision of assistance to people displaced by the conflict.

Maung Thin of Mandalay Division’s Meiktila constituency, is an MP representing the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP)—a group aligned with the military which formerly made up the parliamentary majority. He submitted an urgent request to the Parliament on February 22 asking government to take preventative measures to address social and economic problems which could potentially be caused by El Niño. He said he feared that, due to unusual weather patterns, Burma’s public could face more natural disasters in the coming months, including forest fires, drought and flooding, resulting in agricultural and health problems.

On February 24, a proposal by Lagan Zal Jone, who represents Kachin State’s Waingmaw Township, called on the government to provide protection assistance to the anti-opium vigilante group known as Pat Jasan— established by ethnic Kachin Baptist elders. At the time, Pat Jasan members were on their way to destroy poppy fields in northeastern Kachin State but were stopped outside of the capital, Myitkyina.

Another proposal was tabled by Khin San Hlaing of the National League for Democracy (NLD) on February 25, urging authorities to review permission to sell or lease state-owned factories, facilities and projects to private companies before the transfer of power to a new government next month.

Government officials failed to appear at the Parliament last week to discuss the latter two issues—those of privatization and of protection for anti-poppy campaigners. Instead, a letter was sent to the legislature from the central government stating that officials were busy with transition process.

One notable action by military lawmakers last Friday was their united opposition to a support statement read by another NLD MP in response to Khin San Hlaing’s proposal. The soldiers all stood up collectively in the Parliament to express their disapproval of  the statement, which addressed issues relating to the controversial Letpadaung copper mine in Sagaing Division. A military MP, named Moe Kyaw Oo, refuted the statement by detailing various facts and figures related to the mining project. Such active participation by military MPs is incredibly rare in Parliament.

The new Parliament has also formed several committees that will guide the legislature’s work over the next five years, including 18 in the Lower House and 16 in the Upper House, and a Legal Affairs and Special Cases Assessment Commission lead by the USDP’s Shwe Mann, Burma’s former Union Parliament Speaker often viewed as an ally of Aung San Suu Kyi.

In the past month, the lawmaking body has appointed chairpersons and committee members. Unlike in the previous Parliament, where military MPs were assigned as committee observers, in the current arrangement, a military lawmaker has been appointed as a functional member to each of the committees formed.

The Union Parliament has thus far formed three standing—or more permanent—committees: a joint public accounts committee; a joint draft bill committee and the Committee on Scrutinizing Hluttaw (Parliament) Representatives.