Parliament Probes Hefty Door Polishing Bill

By Htet Naing Zaw 29 May 2018

NAYPYITAW — The Union Parliament has investigated this year’s expense for polishing the parliamentary buildings’ teak doors following a lawmaker’s surprise at the substantial sum but has yet to release its findings.

A total of 470 million kyats ($347,000) was spent on polishing the teak doors as part of the annual maintenance of the parliamentary buildings for the 2017-2018 fiscal year, said lawmaker U Aung Thaik, a member of Parliament’s Joint Administrative Committee.

An investigative body was formed after the chairman of the Joint Administrative Committee and deputy speaker of the Lower House, U Aye Tha Aung, questioned the expense during a meeting of the committee in April, said U Aung Thaik.

Lawmaker Daw Yin Min Hlaing, who represents Magwe Region’s Gangaw Township and led the investigation, declined to comment on the results of the probe, saying the findings had been reported to Parliament and that the speakers would decide on the next step.

The Construction Ministry’s Department of Human Settlement and Housing Development is responsible for certain maintenance work, including the polishing of the teak doors, said U Ko Ko Naing, information officer for the Lower House.

“There is a team that is responsible for the maintenance of the presidential residence and Parliament. It is led by a deputy director-general of the Human Settlement and Housing Development Department. They are responsible for explaining [the costs]. And it is not directly concerned with Parliament,” he told The Irrawaddy.

According to parliamentary procedures, construction and maintenance work expected to cost more than 10 million kyats has to be put out to tender to the private sector.

But the Department of Human Settlement and Housing Development circumvented the rules and divided the polishing work into several smaller projects costing 10 million kyats each so that it would not have to put the work out to tender.

Parliament’s Rights Committee, which is responsible for Parliament’s overall management and financial expenditures, says it has to pay above-market prices for maintenance work.

The previous administration, under U Thein Sein, offered high base prices to private service providers, so the Rights Committee has had to assume the added responsibility of bargaining over prices for maintenance work, said a member of the committee who did not want to be named.

“The maintenance costs are very high. We have to check if the stated costs of the equipment are correct. For example, the prices for sound boxes, speakers and microphones used in Parliament are high and we have had to check the details. We need more time for this,” he told The Irrawaddy.

As for the next fiscal year, the committee will require the budgets for all maintenance work to be submitted for approval, he added.

For the time being, private businesses are invited for bid for nine services including elevators, bottled water and sanitation. The Rights Committee has been able to reduce elevator maintenance costs from 5 million kyats last year to 1.9 million this year, the committee member said.

When Parliament convened in 2016, after the National League for Democracy won the previous year’s election, it was revealed that the electricity bill for air conditioning was 60 million kyats a day, said U Aung Thaik.

“With that money, a decent basic education high school can be built in central Myanmar. So we have had unnecessary air conditioners switched off,” he said.

“You can check the polished doors at the Upper House. You can see that they are badly polished,” he added.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.