Parliament to scrutinise budget, archaic laws

Burmese politicians gearing up for the second session of the Union Parliament this month say MPs may look to examine some areas of legislation that are out of date with a view to abolishing them.

State media yesterday published a notice saying parliament would reconvene on 22 August, several months after the first session in 22 years ended. The state budget is also expected to be discussed.

“I think [the session] will focus on abolishing and amending laws scrutinised in our affairs committee meetings,” said Myat Nyarna Soe, a member of the opposition National Democratic Force and chairperson of the National Parliament’s Bill Committee.

Along with other committee members, Myat Nyarna Soe will meet next week to propose which legislation is kept and which is abolished. Many of Burma’s operative laws are either outdated relics of its colonial past or excessive reactions by its military leaders to perceived subversion.

He said that MPs may also propose that the country does away with a law criminalising the possession of foreign currency, something the regime has used to attempt blanket control of the economy.

The lack of transparency surrounding the annual budget has also triggered complaints from politicians, particularly over the so-called Special Funds Law that gives the commander-in-chief supreme authority to allocate unlimited additional money to the army without any notice, and without parliamentary consent.

Accompanying the announcement of the Special Funds Law in March was a decision to channel nearly a quarter of annual spending to the army, and less than three percent to education and healthcare combined.

There have also been suggestions that a Peace Council may be formed to tackle ongoing conflict in Burma’s ethnic regions, according to Dr Aye Maung, chairman of the Guarantees, Pledges and Undertakings Vetting Committee.

Some politicians are however approaching the second session with caution – many of the proposals made in the first session by opposition MPs were rejected by representatives of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which won nearly 80 percent of the vote in last November’s polls.

There is also the issue of the 30 unilateral powers of President Thein Sein, who heads the USDP and had been prime minister under the previous junta. He need only consult with other MPs on seven treaties and bills, while no consent is required from parliament over matters ranging from the protection of war refugees to the mining of natural resources.

Adding to the dominance of politicians loyal to the former junta is the 25 percent of parliamentary seats that were appointed to military officials prior to the elections.

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