Midnight inspections axed
Both houses of parliament have voted in favour of abolishing a much-feared clause of the Ward and Village Tract Administration Law that had allowed the military regime to justify unannounced household inspections.
THE law behind authorities’ muchreviled “midnight inspections” was finally scrapped yesterday by a parliament dominated by former political prisoners.
The controversial clause in the Ward and Village Tract Administration Law prompted a protracted armwrestle between military MPs and human rights advocates, with amendments to the legislation pinging back and forth between the two houses of parliament.
The feud ended yesterday when the Pyithu Hluttaw narrowly voted in favour of sustaining the upper house’s version of the legislation. That third and final iteration of the draft had removed the offending clause – a stipulation that households must submit overnight guest lists to local authorities.
“We removed the clause requiring the submission of guest lists to the relevant administration office. We debated re-adopting the clause based on the argument that such information is necessary for the security of wards and villages,” said U Kyaw Soe Linn (NLD; Pyigyitagun), an MP and member of the Pyithu Hluttaw Bill Committee. “But most representatives agreed that this guest list process should not be in use anymore so we approved the bill the same as the Amyotha Hluttaw did.”
The ratified form of the bill does contain a caveat: Guests remaining in a ward or village for more than one month will still need to inform the relevant administration office. U Kyaw Soe Linn argued that the stipulation is “in the interests of the people” since if a guest does not inform authorities, he or she could be in danger should there be a natural disaster or other emergency requiring the assistance of officials.
However, no action will be taken against those who fail to inform authorities of their guests, a far cry from the draconian legislation the draft replaces, which outlines imprisonment as a potential penalty.
The long-standing guest list provision was used by the military regime as a way of controlling the movements of its opponents and their supporters, as well as to justify unannounced household inspections that infringed on privacy and created a climate of fear and intimidation.
The provision was mainly used to target social and political activists. Notoriously, the military authorities even deployed the law against Daw Aung San Suu Kyi when an uninvited American stayed overnight illegally in her lakeside Yangon compound in 2009. For many, the registration requirement also proved inconvenient and costly, as it ensured that migrants and renters had to register weekly with ward or village-tract officials, typically paying an under-the-table fee for permission.
Military MPs in both houses of parliament had objected to removal of the overnight guest clause using the rationale that it was needed for national security purposes.
“It is necessary to prevent a possible threat to the security of a region. If something happens, we cannot ensure the security of a ward or village if strangers are free to roam,” said Colonel Tun Myat Shwe.
He told parliamentarians that the contentious clause supports the rule of law, administration, security, and peace and stability of a village tract or ward.
But MP U Myint Tun (NLD; Ta-sei) strongly objected to the notion that the law had any place in a democratic society.
“I don’t quite believe that requiring the registration of guests translates into the safety of the people,” he said. “I have hardly ever heard of bad guys, criminals and absconders being caught because they happened to be registered on the overnight guest list of a household. Such ill-intentioned people would not likely inform the authorities of their visit to a region. Only good people undertake the due diligence required to go to the office and inform administrators of a guest at their home.”
Human rights groups had called on the government to repeal or amend the law, which was last updated in 2012 when it replaced two earlier bills dating back to the colonial era.
In the hluttaw’s secret ballot yesterday, there were 235 votes in favour and 155 against the amended legislation.
Police perform a vehicle inspection at night-time in Yangon.