‘Pension’ Scheme for Lawmakers Divides

By Htet Naing Zaw 16 December 2015

RANGOON — Divergent views are emerging over whether or not outgoing parliamentarians should be provided with “pensions” upon their retirement, a disbursement that lawmakers say is in reality a one-time “gratuity” for their service.

Though discussion in Parliament has referenced the so-called “political pensions,” lawmakers told The Irrawaddy that the plan would actually see 5 million kyats (US$3,845) provided to outgoing Union-level MPs, in accordance with relevant laws and bylaws pertaining to the legislature.

Sitting lawmakers who were re-elected last month, as well as parliamentarians in state and divisional legislatures, would also be entitled to a gratuity, 5 million kyats for the former group and 2.5 million kyats for the latter.

“The Hluttaw [Parliament] laws provide for entitlements, emoluments and allowances for lawmakers. We can take it as it is given under the law,” said Pe Than, a Lower House lawmaker for Myebon Township in Arakan State.

“But if you ask me whether we should take it, when the country is in poverty, I’ll say it is not a monthly pension, but rather we only get it once for five years. So, if you don’t want it, you can give it away. It depends on personal feelings,” he added.

Robert San Aung, a prominent lawyer, has come out against the scheme and is urging Parliament to reconsider how and for whom taxpayers’ money is spent.

“Why should they enjoy a political pension? What have they done [for the country]? With whose money? They should not be given pensions while the country is in poverty,” he said.

“If it is to be given, it should be given to former political prisoners who were imprisoned and saw their health suffer. Those who really love the country will not take that political pension, I think.”

Though emoluments and allowances are enshrined in law, the central committee of the National League for Democracy (NLD) would decide whether party members accepted the money, said Min Thu, a Lower House NLD lawmaker, adding that his party had also objected to a salary increase proposal for MPs passed earlier this year by the Union Solidarity and Development Party-controlled Parliament.

“If ethnic and old lawmakers in the Parliament will take it, I have nothing to say,” Min Thu said. “But I want to make clear that the NLD will not accept those entitlements in principle while the country is in such deep poverty. A clear law should be enacted about entitlements for lawmakers.”

Though details of the gratuity plan remain hazy, parliaments at the Union and regional levels have asked lawmakers to fill out the relevant paperwork if they want to apply for eligibility.

The Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) introduced a monthly pension system for its members that some continue to enjoy, said Sai Nyunt Lwin, a spokesman for the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), who added that the political pension scheme was a burden on taxpayers.

“I have no comment on behalf of my party about whether lawmakers should or shouldn’t take political pensions,” he said.

The BSPP government of the late dictator Gen. Ne Win gave political pensions to cadres who had been party members for four years, even down to ward-level officials. Political pensions were first introduced in 1980, when some of those who participated in the country’s independence struggle were given them to mark a successful mass meeting of Buddhist clergy in Burma that year.

Correction: A previous version of this story erroneously stated that lawmakers in regional parliaments would receive a gratuity of 5 million kyats under the plan.