Yangon MPs Draft Bill to Rein In Mismanagement of Public Funds

By Aung Thiha 17 February 2020

YANGON – The Yangon regional parliament is drafting a law to increase transparency in the use of public funds and to reduce waste through mismanagement, according to a regional lawmaker.

The chairwoman of the regional parliamentary committee on finance, planning and economy, Daw Sandar Min, told The Irrawaddy the regional government refused to pay tax on its company running the Yangon Bus Service, the public transport system launched by Yangon Region Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein in 2017.

She said: “When it was asked to pay tax, it said [the company] was owned by the regional government. When the [Yangon] auditor-general’s office said it would then audit it, the [regional government] said it was a private company. The bill is intended to control such mismanagement.

“Rather than taking control, it will make sure there is less waste in businesses in which the government invests public funds,” she added.

The committee has drafted the Region Funds and Investment Law, which is now being discussed by Yangon’s bill committee and attorney-general’s office. Then input would be sought from business owners, she said.

The law is also aimed at promoting good management and preventing corruption in business deals and the leasing of government land and property.

The bill would require companies established by the regional government with public funds to be audited by the auditor-general’s office and the government to make regular reports to the Yangon parliament about its business activities.

The finance, planning and economy committee plans to submit the bill in June.

Daw Nyo Nyo Thin, founder of Yangon Watch, an independent watchdog monitoring the Yangon government’s performance, welcomed the move, saying it would help protect the public interest and establish a cleaner government.

“I heard that the law was drafted in response to the Yangon regional government’s violation of financial regulations over the past few years,” she said.

While the parliament provided the checks and balances for the government by enacting laws, the government was obliged to comply with those laws, Daw Nyo Nyo Thin added. A government that does not follow procedures should step down, she said.

External relations director U Aung Thu Nyein of Institute for Strategy and Policy Myanmar, a non-governmental think-tank, told The Irrawaddy: “It is good to exercise checks and balances. But I don’t think a law is enough. Other mechanisms like an anti-corruption commission need to be strong to make the system effective.”

The 2008 Constitution stipulates certain provisions that regional and state governments have to follow in using public funds and Yangon has violated those provisions, he said.

According to the Yangon Auditor-General’s report on spending in the 2016-17 and 2017-18 fiscal years, the regional government failed to comply with financial regulations, overstepped its authority, gave favor to organizations or individuals when awarding contracts and public funds were lost due to mismanagement.

One of the examples is Yangon Metropolitan Development Co. Established by the Yangon government to build housing for the homeless, it has barely realized its stated purpose while using its public funding for other purposes.

Another example includes violating tender regulations in the purchase of 30 billion kyats (US$21 million) worth of transformers with presidential special funds.

The regional government also refused to pay income tax on 700 million kyats (US$485,000) in profits from the Yangon Region Transport Authority (YRTA), saying that it was a public company and not a government institution.

The YRTA was formed by the Yangon regional government and tasked to oversee all transport services in the region.

In June last year, the Yangon government intervened to limit the distribution of the Yangon Auditor-General’s report on its spending in fiscal 2017-18. Yangon’s chief minister and the regional parliamentary speaker assigned the parliament’s Public Accounts Committee to review the report, rather than delivering copies to every lawmaker, as was the case in previous years.

Annually, the office prepares the report and submits its findings to the Yangon parliament as dictated by the Union Auditor-General Law. It is 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.

Yangon regional minister for electricity and transport Daw Nilar Kyaw responded to the auditor-general’s report in January but lawmakers complained that she did not give clear answers.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

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