Parliament Defers Military Takeover of Immigration Portfolio

By Tin Htet Paing 28 January 2016

RANGOON — Burma’s Union Parliament decided on Thursday not to approve a proposal from outgoing President Thein Sein to bring immigration matters under the authority of the military-controlled Home Affairs Ministry, as lawmakers opted not to consider the bureaucratic reshuffle with less than two days until their terms end.

Out of 590 lawmakers in attendance for Thursday’s parliamentary session, just three stood against a recommendation to postpone consideration of the proposal, which would see the Ministry of Immigration and Population subsumed by Home Affairs, until after a new batch of lawmakers is seated next week.

The legislature’s Joint Bill Committee had advised postponement, citing the dwindling parliamentary term.

Union Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann of Thein Sein’s Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) was among those in favor of the committee’s recommendation.

Several lawmakers including Aye Maung, an Upper House parliamentarian, had told local media that the idea of bringing the Immigration and Population Ministry under military auspices was an appropriate move but should not be rushed through the legislature under an outgoing government that was handily defeated in last year’s general election. Though Aye Maung was not re-elected to his seat on Nov. 8, he is likely to retain indirect influence in Parliament as chairman of the Arakan National Party (ANP).

While appearing to have some support in principle, the proposal by Thein Sein was also widely criticized as an attempt to expand the military’s power before the impending political handover to Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).

Under the military-drafted Constitution, the country’s armed forces currently control three powerful ministries: Defense, Border Affairs and Home Affairs, the ministers of which are appointed by the Burma Army commander-in-chief.

Early this month, the Ministry of Defense also acquired five factories from the Ministry of Industry that manufactured heavy machinery and automobile accessories, a restructuring also interpreted as a move to consolidate the military’s powerful before Suu Kyi’s government is sworn in.

A new legislature dominated by the NLD will convene on Feb. 1 and Suu Kyi has vowed in her party’s electoral manifesto that her administration will eliminate or merge some of Burma’s 36 ministries to reduce state expenditures and “establish a lean and efficient government.”

Immigration and border security have become sensitive issues in recent years in Burma, where citizenship claims by Rohingya Muslims, some of whom have lived in the country’s western Arakan State for generations, have been denied by successive governments that view the minority group as immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh.