Clamp tightened on MPs questions

MPs in Burma have been given what appears to be a veiled warning about the submission of questions to parliament, in a move that could further stifle political debate in the military-ruled country.

Parliament began accepting questions for the first time on 10 March, six weeks after it first opened following the November elections last year.

Shwe Mann, speaker of the People’s Parliament and former top-ranking junta chief, told representatives yesterday that only questions with direct relevance to current affairs could be asked in the chamber, although little clarification was given to define the boundaries of discussion.

According to National Democratic Force (NDF) representative Kyi Myint, the powerful speaker was making reference to queries submitted by MPs regarding the controversial allocation of national budgets, some of which Shwe Mann claimed had “no relevance with the country’s situation”.

The announcement of a new government budget has drawn sharp rebukes from opposition parties in Burma, with nearly a quarter allocated to the military and the creation of a Special Funds Law that gives the commander-in-chief, currently Than Shwe, supreme authority to allocate unlimited additional money to the army without any notice, and without parliamentary consent.

The healthcare sector is meanwhile set to receive only 9.5 billion kyat ($US110 million), or 1.3 percent of the total budget. This equates to around $US2 per person per year.

Neighbouring Thailand meanwhile spends more than 10 percent of its annual budget on healthcare; among Shwe Mann’s instructions, Kyi Myint said, was that MPs in Burma shouldn’t make comparisons with neighbouring countries.

Five queries were raised by MPs in the People’s Parliament session yesterday, including the one directed to the education minister regarding the maintenance of basic education schools in Arakan state.

Hpone Myint Aung, the NDF’s representative in the National Parliament, said meanwhile that many queries submitted by MPs were turned down by the government under the ‘no relevancy’ pretext.

He said that MPs were stonewalled on topics related to finance, particularly when mooting the prospect of infrastructural projects such as roads and bridges which would require significant amounts of money.

Burma’s three parliaments are dominated by the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), of which Shwe Mann is a member and which swept 80 percent of the vote in the elections.

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