MP sees peace dividend for health, education sectors
AN Amyotha Hluttaw lawmaker anticipates a peace dividend for Myanmar’s education and healthcare sectors if decades of civil war can be brought to an end, saying money allocated to the Ministry of Defence could be directed elsewhere once the fighting stops.
“The Union Peace Conference, or 21st-century Panglong Conference, will be held soon to make peace, to end war forever in our country. If we can build peace, the expenditure on weapons will be decreased significantly,” said U Ye Htut (NLD; Sagaing 5), speaking during a Pyidaungsu Hluttaw session on August 19, when MPs discussed a financial report from the Public Account Joint Committee on the Union Budget Law for 2016-17 and proposed amendments to it.
“If so, spending for education and health will surge significantly, and we can spend enough money on our children. The expenditure for these sectors will be as in Singapore and Malaysia,” he said.
The Panglong Conference, slated to begin August 31, is the centrepiece of the current government’s early forays into Myanmar’s peace process.
A spending bill approved by the previous parliament in January allocated nearly K2.9 trillion (US$2.43 billion) for the Ministry of Defence, according to Pyithu Hluttaw lawmaker Daw Khin San Hlaing (NLD; Palae), out of a total K16.975 trillion budget for 2016-17. Spending on education and health was set at about K1.5 trillion and K830 billion, respectively.
Daw Khin San Hlaing told The Myanmar Times that in a revised bill submitted to the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw last month, the total budget edged up to K16.978 trillion, but allocations for those three sectors were unchanged.
One of four MPs to discuss amendments to the bill on August 19, Daw Khin San Hlaing told parliament the education, healthcare and rural development sectors – all urgently in need of larger budget allocations – could get an additional boost from anticipated savings resulting from a reduction in the number of government ministries, which was approved earlier this year.
President U Htin Kyaw has said estimated savings as a result of the downsizing would total about K5 billion over the government’s five-year term. Daw Khin San Hlaing said K5 billion was enough to build 150 schools for a chronically underfunded national education system.
She also proposed that more than K32 billion, allocated for two flyovers planned for Yangon but targeted for the chopping block earlier this year, instead be put toward rural development projects. “As we all know, in each parliament concerned MPs are asking over and over again whether there is a plan to build schools, clinics, roads and bridges – the basic needs of their regions,” she said.
“When relevant ministries have responded to the questions of MPs, the answers we have repeatedly heard are that these were not included in budget appropriation, or were not included as priority cases, or would be considered depending on the budget allocation,” Daw Khin San Hlaing said.
“On the other hand, we sadly found that some projects costing billions of kyats – for example, some dams and some river-water pumping projects – have been botched and are not benefitting people in reality,” she said, adding that greater attention needed to be paid to effective public spending.
Fellow Pyithu Hluttaw lawmaker U Ba Shein (Arakan National Party; Kyaukphyu) said he agreed with a section of the Public Account Joint Committee’s report that recommended differentiated spending across the country’s 14 states and regions on basic sectors such as education and transportation.
“I found that the budget allocates the same amount for both rural and urban areas. The transportation costs in urban areas are cheaper than rural areas, so I’d like to advocate allocating the budget in accordance with the conditions of a given region,” he said.
Following last week’s discussion, Pyidaungsu Hluttaw Speaker Mahn Win Khaing Than (NLD; Kayin 7) announced that the Ministry of Planning and Finance would further elaborate on the proposed 2016-17 budget at a session of the Union parliament today, when a vote on the spending bill in its entirety is expected.
‘The expenditure in these sectors will be as in Singapore and Malaysia.’
U Ye Htut National League for Democracy