Lit­tle changed in re­vised Union bud­get bill

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - – Trans­la­tion by Zar Zar Soe, Thiri Min Htun and San Layy HTOO THANT thanhtoo@mm­times.com HTIN LIN AUNG htin­lyn­naung@mm­times.com

Amend­ments to the 2016-17 Union bud­get sub­mit­ted to par­lia­ment this week did lit­tle to change spend­ing pri­or­i­ties set out by the pre­vi­ous govern­ment, de­spite calls for re­form and a min­is­te­rial re­struc­tur­ing.

WHILE the new govern­ment has com­plained their hands are tied with spend­ing pat­terns set by the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion, the chances of a ma­jor bud­getary over­haul were all but eclipsed by the sub­mis­sion of the amended ap­pro­pri­a­tions bill this week.

The re­vised Union bud­get for 2016-17 was sub­mit­ted to the Pyi­daungsu Hlut­taw on July 25 with min­i­mal al­ter­ations.

Un­der the newer ver­sion, the big­gest shift is the ac­com­mo­da­tion of the govern­ment’s de­ci­sion to re­duce the num­ber of min­istries from 33 to 21. But ac­cord­ing to U Kyaw Win, Union min­is­ter for plan­ning and fi­nance, the re­duc­tion only saves 2 per­cent of the K23.6 tril­lion (US$20 bil­lion) bud­get.

The sav­ings are now slated to fund the two new min­istries – the Min­istry of Eth­nic Af­fairs and the Min­istry of the State Coun­sel­lor. The bud­get deficit will dip slightly, to K3.76 tril­lion from the pre­vi­ous es­ti­mate of K3.9 tril­lion.

The 2016 bud­get was ap­proved in Jan­uary by a par­lia­ment then­dom­i­nated by the out­go­ing Union Sol­i­dar­ity and De­vel­op­ment Party. While the in­com­ing par­lia­ment, with its over­whelm­ing Na­tional League for Democ­racy ma­jor­ity, re­frained from amend­ing the bud­get in the last par­lia­ment, the Speaker had said bud­getary amend­ment would be pri­ori­tised in the cur­rent ses­sion, which opened on July 25.

Last April, former Speaker Thura U Shwe Mann rec­om­mended widerang­ing amend­ments to sev­eral laws, in­clud­ing the bud­get law which, he said, had been adopted “in haste”, with few re­duc­tions be­ing ap­plied to ini­tial bud­get es­ti­mates. For in­stance, the de­fence min­istry’s re­quest for K1.24479 tril­lion sailed through un­scathed. The former Speaker was act­ing in his ca­pac­ity as the chair of the Com­mis­sion for the As­sess­ment of Le­gal Af­fairs and Spe­cial Is­sues set up by the in­com­ing govern­ment to pro­pose changes to laws passed by its pre­de­ces­sor.

U Bo Gyi, a mem­ber of the Pub­lic Ac­counts Com­mit­tee, told The Myan­mar Times on July 25 that 17 teams had been set up to re­view min­is­te­rial bud­gets, while other mem­bers sug­gested that min­istries’ bor­row­ing might be re­duced.

Ac­counts com­mit­tee mem­ber Sai Thiha Kyaw said there would in fact be lit­tle change. “The law can­not be changed much. The amend­ments re­late mainly to re­flect­ing the re­duc­tion in the num­ber of min­is­ters [from 36 to 18], so that the names of the min­istries will be changed, as well as the lend­ing re­stric­tions. Noth­ing much else is changed.”

Amend­ments pro­posed by the 17 teams will be sub­mit­ted to the Pub­lic Ac­counts Com­mit­tee on Au­gust 2. Af­ter about a week to con­sider the changes, the com­mit­tee will re­fer them to the Pyi­daungsu Hlut­taw, said U Bo Gyi.

De­spite a pledge made by Pres­i­dent U Htin Kyaw last month to in­crease pub­lic spend­ing on education, health and so­cial se­cu­rity start­ing this fis­cal year with re­vi­sions to the bud­get, sig­nif­i­cant changes ap­pear un­likely.

U Kyaw Win said tax rev­enues from the Min­istry of Com­merce and the Min­istry of Ho­tels and Tourism are fore­cast to in­crease by K762 mil­lion and K225 mil­lion re­spec­tively. Fur­ther, a 5pc com­mer­cial tax on mo­bile phones col­lected by the In­ter­nal Rev­enue Depart­ment is ex­pected to gen­er­ate K7.5 bil­lion. The ex­tra tax in­come has been slated for use in the peren­ni­ally un­der­funded education sec­tor. But the mod­icum of an in­crease falls far short of the seis­mic shift needed to achieve the NLD’s am­bi­tious plan to pro­vide uni­ver­sal, free education and an ex­pan­sion of teacher train­ing pro­grams.

“The 5pc tax on mo­bile phones has been set to use in sec­tors which will ben­e­fit the pub­lic in a di­rect way. First of all, we will use them in the education sec­tor,” U Kyaw Win said.

There were no changes to a re­quest from the Min­istry of Home Af­fairs to boost se­cu­rity through build­ing fences on the bor­ders with In­dia and Bangladesh. The projects are slated to cost K1.061 bil­lion and K432 bil­lion re­spec­tively.

The amend­ment does al­ter how much the Myan­mar Cen­tral Bank can lend. In the orig­i­nal law, the loans can­not be “more than K4.5 tril­lion”, but un­der the amended law the amount is now “not more than K5 tril­lion”.

“We have to amend the to­tal amount of money the Cen­tral Bank can lend to con­form with the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion be­cause the Pyi­daungsu Hlut­taw has al­ready ap­proved that the Union govern­ment will bor­row K500 bil­lion from the Cen­tral Bank as an agricultural loan,” U Kyaw Win said.

Pyithu Hlut­taw MP U Ba Shein (Arakan Na­tional Party, Kyauk­phyu) said he had an­tic­i­pated larger changes to the bud­get, and a more con­tentious de­bate. “When I heard that the bud­get law will be amended I was cu­ri­ous. In re­al­ity, what they have al­tered is not un­usual. The amend­ments are just to ac­com­mo­date re­duc­ing the num­ber of min­istries,” he said.

Other MPs sug­gested that the amend­ments to the bud­get are not so dras­tic and not hotly de­bated be­cause most of the MPs do not have ex­pe­ri­ence set­ting bud­gets.

Parliamentarians still have time to make a last-minute shift be­fore sub­mit­ting re­ports to the Pyi­daungsu Hlut­taw’s Pub­lic Ac­count Joint Com­mit­tee, which will re­port back to the hlut­taw af­ter col­lect­ing all in­put.

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