YANGON—The Yangon regional government intervened to limit distribution of the Yangon Auditor-General’s report on the regional administration’s spending in fiscal 2017-18 to just two senior officials, depriving lawmakers of an advance look, according to regional Auditor-General Daw Khin Than Hla.
Annually, the office prepares the report and submits its findings to the Yangon Parliament as dictated by the Union Auditor-General Law. It’s also customary to send copies of the report to each regional lawmaker in advance so they can study it before joining parliamentary debates on the government’s spending.
Daw Khin Than Hla told The Irrawaddy on Friday that her office had prepared 150 copies of the fiscal 2017-18 report this year. In late June, shortly before they were due to be sent to the Yangon parliament for distribution to lawmakers, however, she received a letter from the Yangon regional government.
“The letter says just to send two copies—one to the chief minister [of Yangon] and one to the speaker [of the Yangon parliament], following the Union Parliament’s procedure,” she said.
She added that the letter was signed by the regional government’s secretary, U Myo Aung Htay. The regional government is led by Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein.
The auditor-general said she initially considered lodging a complaint about the instruction, as it was contrary to the practice the office has followed since the National League for Democracy government took office in 2016.
“Finally, I let it go, as [the order] was from the regional government,” she said.
In an unprecedented move, the Yangon government chief minister and the regional parliament speaker in September assigned the parliament’s Public Account Committee to review the auditor-general’s report for fiscal 2017-18, rather than delivering copies to every lawmaker for their prior review, as was the case in previous years. The committee will have to report its findings back to the parliament.
As the current Yangon government took office in 2016, the auditor-general’s report for fiscal 2017-18 will be an assessment of the two-year-old U Phyo Min Thein administration’s public funds management.
Public Account Committee President U Tint Lwin told The Irrawaddy that his committee was assigned, in line with an agreement between the Yangon government and the regional parliament speaker, to follow the Union Lower House’s procedure, rather than letting other lawmakers review it.
The Yangon government’s instruction prompted complaints among lawmakers that they had lost their chance to study the report, leaving them unprepared to ask the government questions about its spending, as they did previously.
This prompted questions from lawmakers regarding the city government’s transparency: Why do they no longer have access to the report as they did before, they asked, and why now—more than one year from the end of this parliament’s five-year term?
“We will only know what the Public Account Committee chooses to report,” said U Kyaw Zey Ya, a lawmaker from the ruling NLD, worrying whether the committee’s review will thoroughly cover irregularities in government spending, as other lawmakers will have to discuss it based on the contents of the committee’s findings. He also wondered aloud if the alleged ban on prior review of the auditor-general’s report was the result of lawmakers’ fiery debate on the fiscal 2016-17 report.
“[If so], it shows a lack of transparency and that democratic norms are on the wane,” he said.
When The Irrawaddy contacted Yangon Parliament Speaker U Tin Maung Tun to learn the reason for the distribution ban and the assignment given to the Public Account Committee, he didn’t take questions and hung up. Further calls went unanswered.
Daw Khin Than Hla said the regional government’s intervention in the distribution of the report to lawmakers is contrary to the prevailing trend of encouraging official transparency—something the government itself says it supports.
“I have to say that distributing the complete version of the report in the parliament was never done before 2016. Our leader [State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi] herself is also very serious when it comes to statistics. A ban on the distribution of the copies runs counter to today’s trend toward greater transparency,” she said.