Civil servant wage hike approved amid controversy

A move to raise the minimum wage of civil servants to 210,000 kyat ($210) a month has been ratified without dissent by Parliament, days after being publicly challenged by the Finance Minister Hla Tun.

The decision risks a tussle with Cabinet, who are understood to have backed demands to withdraw the proposals in an alleged bid to protect the country’s faltering economy.

In a letter to the Union Government, Parliamentary Speaker, Shwe Mann, who tabled the proposal, has called on executive authorities to “carry out the decision” in accordance with their mandate.

“The Union Government has a duty to carry out this matter,” he said. “We must follow the rules of the Constitution.”

Finance Minister Hla Tun had argued that plans to double the pay for civil servants in the financial year starting on 1 April would lead to a 12 percent increase in Burma’s national deficit at a time when the country already has 11 billion dollars in national debt and only 7 billion in reserves.

His challenge comes weeks after backing an increase in military spending to 25.1 percent in next year’s budget. At the time he defended his position on the basis that Burma still spends far less than Thailand or Singapore, which allocates around $US8 billion each year to the military and is a chief supplier of weaponry to Burma.

But according to MP, Phone Myint Aung, the Finance Minister had failed to note the discrepancy in gross domestic product between the countries, with Singapore’s currently standing at around $222.7 billion and Burma’s less than $US85 billon.

The World Bank recently announced that Burma will be required to re-pay several hundred million dollars in arrears, before it can resume lending to the isolated country.

“We will need the support of the international community,” Hla Tun told Parliament last week. “We are 11 billion dollars in debt. We have only just over 7 billion in reserves. If bonds are to be sold, Burmese laws and regulations must be drawn up so that the international community can buy them and invest.”

MP Dr Aye Maung said if She Mann’s proposal for a salary hike could not be carried out for 2012-2013 financial year, a public opinion poll should be held.

“If the President cannot oblige the proposal of U Shwe Mann by 2012-2013, the president should carry out a public opinion poll. Public trust and the trust of civil servants will impact on the Cabinet. The impetus of the Cabinet is the bureaucracy. It is impossible without the participation of civil servants.”

Currently, the average civil servant earns around 100,000 kyat ($100) per month.

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