The Irrawaddy

Yangon Government’s 2018-19 Budget Proposals Come Under Fire

People on trishaws ride among traffic in downtown Yangon. Lawmakers are urging more funds be spent on development projects in the 2018-19 budget. (Photo: Reuters)

YANGON — The Yangon regional government came under intense criticism in Parliament this week for its proposed 2018-19 budget, with MPs expressing concerns about the planned spending of billions of kyats.

U Yan Aung, an NLD regional lawmaker from Mingalar Taung Nyunt Township, said during a Friday parliamentary session the draft budget included expenses that are “unacceptable and unnecessary”.

He pointed to proposed spending on office supplies, such as 800, 000 kyats (USD 594) for a swivel chair and 4 million kyats ($2,970) for woodcarved furniture, while the MPs’ suggestions for funds for township development were largely ignored.

“Furniture is bought every year. Is that furniture only for one year’s use? And after being used for one year, is it being thrown away?” U Yan Aung said.

The MP wondered aloud whether the furniture was actually being bought, and urged Parliament to consider whether it was necessary.

“I suggest the budget be examined carefully. If not, public funds will be squandered,” he said.

The planned spending on furniture was among a number of items in the budget that MPs expressed vigorous opposition to during the debates this week.

Another hot topic was that the proposed purchase of 10 Ford cars to be used as official vehicles for the Yangon regional government at a cost one billion kyats($0.7 million).

The cars are intended to be used to ferry guests to regional government functions. MPs strongly criticized the proposal and stressed priority be given to the needs of the general public.

The draft budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which will start on October 1 and end on September 31, 2019, was submitted by the Yangon Regional Minister for Planning and Finance U Myint Thaung on May 25. Nearly 20 lawmakers debated the budget proposals starting on Wednesday.

On Friday, the Yangon Parliament Finance, Planning and Economic Committee proposed a set of budget cuts.

NLD regional lawmaker Daw Sandar Min, who chairs the committee, said a total of 3.6 billion kyats($2.7 million) had been requested for the purchase of vehicles including the 1 billion for the 10 Ford sedans and for the office of the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC).

She said the General Administration Department (GAD) had also asked for 1 billion kyats to buy 21 double-cab cars in the 2018-19 fiscal budget.

Daw Sandar Min said a total of 57 vehicles had previously been bought for the GAD.

“Given that the budget for those vehicles shouldn’t be approved, to ensure necessary development of the townships is properly funded, we [the committee] would like to ask that the allotted funds be cut,” she said.

The committee also proposed cutting 107.65 million kyats($0.08 million) for various planned expenditures at Yangon City Golf Club, which come on top of 1.5 billion kyats($1.1 million) allocated for its six-month operating budget from April to September.

The committee also asked to cut a proposal from a YCDC request for 6.8 billion kyats($5.05 million) to invest in Yangon City Bank to allow it to provide foreign banking services, and suggested the money be used instead for township development projects.

In addition to the government’s contentious expenditure proposals for the upcoming fiscal year, the lawmakers also condemned the regional government’s lack of transparency.

Last month, an urban development proposal from the Yangon government regarding infrastructure, transportation, housing and economic development projects was rejected after lawmakers called for more transparency.

Lawmakers complained that the report the government had submitted to Parliament included only titles of projects and general information, making it difficult for them to approve it.

Last week, the MPs also asked the regional auditor general to examine the Yangon government’s spending of 64 billion kyats ($0.04 billion) on City Bank, 70 billion ($0.05 billion)on Yangon Bus Service and 7.8 billion kyats($5.8 million) for farmland repairs—which were allocated in a supplementary 2016-17 budget.

The lawmakers’ heated debates over the government’s proposed budget expenditures and lack of transparency were welcomed as a sign the check-and-balance mechanism between parliament and the government was working.

The Yangon Parliamentary speaker announced on Friday that the regional government would provide clarifications about its budget proposals during the Monday session.