Good spending, good accounting practices a must: retired minister
CORRECTLY allocating budgetary resources is one of the most problematic and important steps the government must take to develop the country, a former official from the Ministry of Planning and Finance said last week.
Speaking at the launch of a new online budget portal that aims to make government funding more transparent, U Soe Thein, a retired deputy director general from the ministry, acknowledged that balancing the expense sheet with all the ministries’ demands is “not an easy task”.
“Myanmar is a developing country and there are many things that need funding. If the money is not directed to the neediest places, the country will not develop as it should,” he said at Open Myanmar Initiative’s launch of a new budget website on September 27.
“Properly allocating resources requires a good accounting system,” he added.
Open Myanmar Initiative’s “budget explorer” seeks to make information on government spending accessible to the public using searchable databases. The website includes sections on state and region expenditures, subnational spending in departments across the country, a Union budget summary, and incomes and expenditures from stateowned enterprises.
The dashboard currently contains data for the 2016-17 Union budget, and for some states and regions from the 2013-14 financial year.
For now, the website is only avilable in English, but the developers hope to eventually launch a Myanmar-language version as well.
According to nonprofit research group International Budget Partnership, Myanmar ranks two out of 100 on budget transparency, with “scant” information provided to the public and very few budget documents made available within “a timeframe consistent with international standards”.
According to the research group’s April update, the new government has published the same number of key budget documents as under the last government in 2015.
U Soe Thein said the current K23.6 trillion 2016-17 budget has not shown a vast improvement over the previous fiscal year’s K20 trillion budget in terms of either revenue or allocation. Both spending patterns were drafted and approved by former President U Thein Sein’s government.
“The internal revenue has not developed very much,” he said, citing the increasing expense of civil servant salaries as a challenge that is not being offset by either simultaneous increases in tax income or stateowned enterprises.
“The state-owned businesses are flagging … and in terms of expenses, increasing the civil servant salary to K100,000 may not seem like a large amount to compensate a bureaucrat for their work, but the number of all the civil servants throughout the country is large, a fact that becomes obvious when balancing the budget,” he said.
He added taxes collected from the states do not amount to much, and that in order for development to occur, the states need to put in place a more systematic taxation system.
“There are many [development] problems to solve, and to do that requires money,” he added.
Myanmar has among the lowest tax yields worldwide, according to the Asian Development Bank, a problem exacerbated by a notoriously corrupt Internal Revenue Department.
The National League for Democracy-led administration has pledged to clean up the IRD, and introduce more transparency into the dysfunctional taxation system. During the campaign season ahead of last year’s election, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi told supporters that her party would form a “clean” government and the party’s election manifesto promised to “take effective action as necessary in order to establish a society free of corruption”.
Currently, there is not a publicly available list of all the state-owned economic enterprises, nor has the government produced budget audits available to citizens. – Translation by Khine Thazin Han