Budget revamp targets health, military

Parliament will soon vote over whether to approve a four-fold increase in government spending on healthcare in Burma, a sector that currently receives one of the lowest levels of state support in the world.

A budget proposal submitted to parliament this week by planning ministers could also see education spending double, from 4.1 percent of the government budget to 8.3 percent.

But what will likely irk Burmese is a push for more finance to be allocated to the military, which already accounts for 23.1 percent of spending, or around $US2 billion per year. If approved, that figure will climb to 25.1 percent in a country where the majority of military operations occur in the border regions in battles against ethnic armies.

The boost for the military does not include money already set aside for the Special Funds Law, a decree announced in March last year that allows the army chief to channel unlimited finance to the military without parliamentary consent.

But for other sectors, the news is promising: only 1.3 percent of government spending, or $US2 per person each year, currently goes to healthcare. In comparison Thailand’s healthcare sector receives 11 percent.

Phone Myint Aung, an MP in the National Parliament, said the proposed budget would be debated next week. However he quoted Finance Minister Hla Tun who in parliament defended the proposed boost in military spending by arguing that Burma still spends far less than Thailand or Singapore, which spends around $US8 billion each year and which is a chief supplier of weaponry to Burma.

What the finance minister failed to note however, according to Phone Myint Aung, is the discrepancy in GDPs between the countries, with Singapore’s currently standing at around $222.7 billion and Burma’s less than $US85 billon.

Burma is also grappling with a debt of almost $US11 billion, Hla Tun admitted, but the economy is currently witnessing something of a transformation as the country attempts to open up to western investors. The IMF said last week that GDP could grow to six percent by 2013.

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