Nay Phone Latt is a well-known freedom of speech advocate, blogger and former political prisoner, who joined the National League for Democracy (NLD) ahead of last year’s election.
He won a seat in Yangon Region parliament in Thingangyun Township, becoming one the NLD’s youngest MPs. Born in 1980 as Nay Myo Kyaw, he adopted the pen name Nay Phone Latt for his writings during the former junta.
Yangon parliament first convened in March. Myanmar Now caught up with Nay Phone Latt recently to ask him about his experience as a first-time MP and what he thinks are Yangon’s most pressing problems.
Question: What was the first issue that you discussed in the new parliament?
Answer: I took part in scrutinising the 2016-2017 budget drawn up by the previous Yangon Region government, and we approved the proposed amount. I then gained a better understanding of the role of parliament. It has a responsibility to prevent a waste of budget. The government collects taxes, but revenue must be spent with approval of parliament. Our new parliament cancelled two flyover projects and decided to spend the allocated funds on rural development programmes outside Yangon City.
Q: When you reviewed the 2015-2016 budget for Yangon Region, did you notice anything unusual?
A: Yes, we did. We found that allocated budgets in some sectors were not spent and some spent too much, such as on flyover projects. The new ministers are responsible for only the upcoming budgets, while the outgoing ministers do not take responsibility for the past ones. New regional legislators could only submit this information (on budget irregularities) to the regional parliament for the record. No one takes responsibility.
Q: The last parliament failed to raise effective questions on the government’s crackdown on street protests and squatters. How will this parliament tackle such problems under the new government?
A: We will handle such issues seriously. But we must identify the real squatters or the opportunists. We need to consider low-cost housing projects for the homeless. The government is responsible for this. It’s not a good solution to remove makeshift houses of squatters by bulldozer. We will prevent such practices. As many of the parliamentarians and government officials are now former political prisoners, we believe there will be no more violent crackdowns during the tenure of this government.
Q: How should the NLD government tackle ongoing land disputes, such as those in Michaungkan area in Thingangyun Township?
A: We will seek ideas and suggestions from the responsible officials, while we collect information on this issue. Then, we should choose the most suitable means to solve it. Sometimes, some truth is bitter. Not all solutions can please both sides. No democratic government can please 100 percent of its citizens. Mutual understanding and patience must be kept between the government and people. Intolerance will bring the country back to the old era, instead of leading to a democratic culture.
Q: The outgoing government tried to solve traffic congestion by building flyovers in Yangon. What do you make of this approach?
A: A single government body alone cannot find a viable solution. The construction department seems to solve traffic congestion problem by constructing flyovers. The relevant government agencies need to meet for a realistic and integrated plan to solve traffic congestion. For example, Yangon City Development must consider the places for roadside venders and parking areas, as well as the expansion of roads. Electricity posts are now seen on the roads after roads were expanded. It shows the government bodies did not cooperate well.
Q: What are the serious issues in your constituency of Thingangyun Township?
A: There are so-called squatter issues. The word squatter is easily equated with homeless people, but actually, government departments have seized many public areas (where people live). The township municipal committee sold out some parks to the private sector. The former ruling political party seized a public land plot and constructed their office on it. Some people in my constituency are asking to get back a football ground that was sold off. I am preparing to fulfil their expectations. I want to ask the previous government how they will take responsibility for their land confiscation from the public. The outgoing government ignored complaints about land seizures and removed squatters by using bulldozers.
Q: What will you do about the many roadside vendors, now that you are a member of the social affairs committee in Yangon parliament?
A: We must view the problem from both sides. Vendors take up positions on the pavements and people have to walk on the roads. This causes road accidents and traffic congestion. Yangon has not enough parking areas. But if we cleared the vendors, they would face livelihood problems. If we put them in new places, they would not have enough space for their goods. We would need to persuade them through educative programmes and find alternative ways for them to sell their wares.
Q: What issues should Yangon government prioritise first?
A: They will have to do a lot things soon. The government has a responsibility to manage balancing income and expenditure. An incapable government fails to establish a happy living conditions for its citizens. People need to cooperate with the new government. If needed, they must push the government. Both the government and public play a key role for the development of the country. People can expect a good administration if they try themselves to become responsible citizens. Our country is sure to develop if we find such harmonious ways.