Participants at a discussion about the Myanmar government’s budget for the fiscal year 2015-2016 talked about concerns over transparency, corruption, taxes, and the yawning gap between the allocation for education and defence.
The Post Budget Consultation on Myanmar 2015-2016, which was jointly organized by the National Economic and Social Advisory Council Myanmar (NESAC), Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI), and Action Aid Myanmar, was held on May 24 at the UMFCCI office in Yangon.
ActionAid Myanmar has been working on economic literacy and public service financing in order to ensure a pro-poor budget, participatory bottom-up planning, transparency and the strengthening of the capacity of state and non-state actors in Myanmar.
About 200 government and non-state players discussed the government’s 2015-16 fiscal year budget, looking at how the budget was allocated, how it is being used for national development, and the percentage growth in sector allocation.
Myanmar’s total budget for 2015-16 is US$23 billion [K23,000 billion], representing an overall increase of about 20 percent over 2014-15. Myanmar’s government is running a deficit this year.
“This year’s budget will be the last budget for the current government, so we need to review it carefully,” said U Saw Naing, an economist. “During the 2011-2015 period, the budget allocation for Kayah State is very low and the budget allocation for Shan State is very high. In 2015-2016, the budget allocation for defence, education and health sectors increased. This is in accord with the policy guideline set by the nation.”
However, he said it was not good if the deficit is large. “If production has increased, the deficit will increase. The education sector and the health sector will improve. Taxes should be used systematically. [However, the government] focused [on funding] the defence sector during these four years,” he said.
U Maung Toe, secretary of the Public Accounts Committee of the Lower House of Parliament, expressed concern about the government’s budget for education.
“The spending for education sector is 8.2 percent. In other countries, [spending for the education sector] is 14 to 15 percent. So, the spending for education should be increased. The spending can be increased to 14 or 15 percent. We should even aim for 20 percent,” he said.
U Zaw Pe Win, principal of the Human Development Institute, questioned the government’s growing budget deficit and how funds are allocated.
“Regarding state-owned businesses, income exceeded spending last year, but spending exceeded income this year. Regarding spending, the Defence Ministry has the highest spending among the Union Ministries. [Even though] the Defence Ministry reduced its spending, it is still has highest spending,” he said.
Dr Nyo Nyo Thin, a Yangon Region MP talked about her concerns over gender equality and the fact that one third of parliamentarians are women.
“Just having women in the parliament and just having women ministers does not mean we have a gender sensitive budget or a gender equality budget. If a country does not have a gender equality budget, the country will not improve. We cannot ignore gender equality sensitive projects,” she said.
One participant tried to raise what he said was the misperception that people in Myanmar do not pay taxes. Taxes are in fact paid on many products, he said, and he queried just how this was affecting small and medium businesses.
ActionAid Myanmar has been organizing budget roundtable stakeholder discussions biannually in 2013 and 2014 respectively in order to stimulate the wider discussion between different stakeholders on the national budgeting process. There are normally two different roundtable discussions - before the budget law is approved (pre-budget discussion) and after the budget is approved (post-budget discussion).
Since President U Thein Sein’s government came to power in 2011 it has been pursuing major political and economic reforms, in an attempt to rectify what are considered to be decades of economic mismanagement. The economic reform process under the current government aims at accelerating structural changes and comprehensive economic development in order to open its economy to the world. As part of these comprehensive reforms, the government also released a framework for economic and social reforms in December 2012. The FESR programmes include budgetary and tax reforms, and monetary and financial sector reforms.