The announcement last week that Burma will channel nearly a quarter of its annual budget to the military has brought widespread criticism from the country’s political opposition.
Anger has also been directed at the formation 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.
“Deciding the country’s budget is a serious business – it should be discussed with the people’s representatives in the parliament before being approved,” said Thu Wei, chairman of the Democratic Party Myanmar, which won three seats in the November elections last year.
He added that the unilateral decision over the new budget “implies the government’s lack of confidence in parliamentary representatives”.
The National League for Democracy (NLD), which boycotted the polls but remains a potent opposition force in Burma, released a statement saying that the country’s “main sectors for…development”, those of healthcare and education, had been grossly overlooked in favour of the military.
The healthcare sector is 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. The nearly 500,000-strong military, on the other hand, will get around $US2.04 billion, despite Burma having no external enemies.
“We see that it is necessary to increase the defence budget when the country is developed,” said Aye Thar Aung, secretary of the Committee Representing the People’s Parliament (CRPP), “but for now, when the country’s economy, education and health sectors are poor, we think the defence budget should be decreased and spending increased for these sectors.”
No official data on Burma’s prior military spending is in circulation, but analysts regularly estimated the figure to be around 40 percent of the annual budget. While the latest announcement, bar the Special Funds Law, signals a decrease from before, it will do little to support the junta’s assertions that Burma is transitioning to civilian rule.
Khin Maung Swe, the head of the National Democratic Force, which occupies 16 parliamentary seats, noted that neighbouring Thailand spends 11 percent of its budget on healthcare. He said that his party would submit a bill to parliament proposing that 10 percent be allocated to the “deteriorating” health sector.