A delegation from Myanmar is expected to arrive in Canada in the next few weeks, on the heels of a draft report that suggests parliamentarians from the country want to learn about Canada’s “parliamentary oversight over the spending of public funds.”
The visit will be in response to the multi-party Canadian delegation to Myanmar, also known as Burma, from Feb. 16 to 22, Than Htwe, a counsellor at the embassy of Myanmar, said in an interview.
The delegation is expected on April 22, Mr. Htwe said, although another observer said visa issues could delay that date.
Embassy has also obtained a draft copy of the report outlining the results of the Canadian delegation. It recommends the reciprocal delegation, as well as for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to travel to the country, and that the Canadian embassy presence in the country should focus more on strengthening democratic institutions, among other recommendations.
The report also outlines “key areas of interest” that parliamentarians from Myanmar expressed about Canadian parliamentary democracy, including “Parliamentary oversight over the spending of public funds: the role of the public accounts committee and the auditor general.”
The delegation to Canada will also follow in the footsteps of Canada’s recent diplomatic courting of the Southeast Asian nation. The government announced Canada’s new ambassador to Myanmar on March 29, Mark McDowell, and is also promising a first-ever embassy that would be opened “in the coming months.”
Mr. McDowell has been a counsellor at Canada’s embassy in China since 2010, and has worked as a foreign service officer since 1994, except during a year-long fellowship at Harvard University, the government noted in a short biography.
Few details of the delegation to Canada are being revealed. In response to several questions, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade would only confirm that planning is currently under way for the visit.
Wayne Marston, a New Democrat MP who was part of the Canadian delegation, said he’s hoping for a reception when the reciprocal delegation comes to Canada. He said he is optimistic that the Canadian delegation participants will welcome and interact with the visitors from Myanmar.
Liberal MP John McKay, who also participated in the Canadian delegation, said this reciprocal visit is key to showing Burmese members of parliament how a functioning democracy runs.
The country has been under military control since a coup d’état in 1962, but has recently begun loosening some of its democratic and political restrictions.
“They have no resources, no desk, no fax, no telephone, no internet, no staff, no money, no nothing—and yet they’re supposed to hold the government to some form of account?” said Mr. McKay.
Tin Maung Htoo, the executive director of Canadian Friends of Burma, speculates the team will comprise opposition MPs such as officials from the National League for Democracy, a political party in Myanmar, and MPs representing ethnic minorities, as that has been the case for past visits to other countries.
At less than 1,400 words, the draft report is a straightforward examination of the trip. It lists five recommendations:
• for a reciprocal delegation of MPs and officials from Myanmar to visit Canada;
• for Mr. Harper and House Speaker Andrew Scheer to visit the country;
• for the Parliamentary Centre to “invest in further capacity building proposals” for Myanmar, including in freedom of the press;
• for a Canada-Burma Parliamentary Group to “be formed with the goal of strengthening ties”; and
• for the involvement of the Canadian embassy in Myanmar to “go beyond trade issues and focus on the strengthening of democratic institutions.”
Jean-Paul Ruszkowski, president and CEO of the Parliamentary Centre, says another report is currently being drafted.
But Mr. Marston said he doubts that it will be a public report. He said he isn’t surprised the names of those coming from Myanmar to Canada haven’t been released yet, and believes it will be a local decision made in Myanmar.
“Canada wouldn’t be excited about another country telling us who we could send, so why should they pick and choose who should come?”
Mr. McKay and Mr. Marston anticipate the delegation will be a weeklong visit.
While Mr. Maung applauds the government’s efforts, he says one of the goals, to create a Canada-Burma parliamentary group, has already been achieved in the Parliamentary Friends of Burma.
He suggested that delegation organizers should ensure that the Canada-Myanmar population gets a chance to interact with the visitors, and that MPs and senators who have been playing important roles in relation to Canada’s policy on Myanmar over the last few years be more actively consulted about the growing relationship between the two countries.
Mr. Marston says the value of the work being done can’t be denied and acknowledged how instrumental the multi-party delegation to Myanmar was. The first of its kind, Mr. Marston says this will allow future parties and prime ministers to continue the work regardless of political affiliation.
He added that he hopes the discussions delve into the lack of structure in the Myanmar political system, past what he calls the “nuts and bolts at an operational level” so officials can learn how the government conducts business.
He provides examples of essential information to discuss, such as what an auditor general’s role is, what the role of an opposition MP is, and how the parliamentary system functions in the House.
DRAFT MYANMAR DELEGATION REPORT HIGHLIGHTS
The following are excerpts from a draft copy of a report from the Canadian parliamentary delegation to Myanmar from Feb. 15 to 23. It has been edited for length and style:
There was distinct appetite by parliamentarians and others to learn more about how the Canadian Parliamentary system works. The following is an outline of the key areas of interest:
Canadian federalism and federal-provincial relations
During the visit to Burma it was noted a number of times by various Burmese opposition parties as well as by Aug Sang Suu Kyi herself that the key to ethnic reconciliation and peace in Burma would be a change of power-sharing between the Union government and the states.
Parliamentary oversight over the spending of public funds: the role of the public accounts committee and the auditor general
The Canadian delegation to Burma, including the chair of the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons met with the Chair and members from the PAC of the Lower House of the Burmese Parliament. The PAC is one of the more active committees in the chamber, interested in strengthening its capacity. Aug Sang Suu Kyi also noted that stronger government accountability is one of the ways to ensuring that changes going on in the country ultimately translate into real changes in the day-to-day lives of regular citizens.
Meetings with the international community involved in Burma also revealed that so far limited or no assistance has been provided in strengthening the PAC. Canada`s model is particularly relevant to that of Burma.
Internal administration in parliament and support services provided to parliamentarians
Both the speaker of the upper chamber of the Burmese parliament and the director of the administration of both houses asked for support in strengthening the capacity of staff to provide essential support services to parliamentarians, such as research support and legislative drafting.
Women`s participation in politics and parliament
This is a very important issue for Burma. While women are represented in parliament and in political parties their numbers remain extremely low. Meetings held during the Canadian visit to Burma demonstrated that there is interest in Canada`s experience.
Rules of procedure for parliament
The Canadian delegation met the International relations Committee of the lower house of the parliament of Burma which had requested for feedback on the current rules of procedure of parliament. The meeting demonstrated that there is a lot of interest in learning more about the Canadian experience.
The composition of the Canadian delegation with three key parties included along with non-partisan officials, women and men of various backgrounds working together as a group representing Canada, was particularly adequate for the task at hand.
It demonstrated to Burmese counterparts, which are very politically and ethnically diverse themselves, that a constructive co-existence and co-operation within a pluralistic parliamentary system can work very well;
Similarly, such visits perform best when their programs include meetings with as diverse as possible representatives of the Burmese society, including government and various opposition groups, civil society and media;
The presence on the delegation of several women: including a parliamentarian, a party advisor and an official from the auditor general`s office helped to reinforce the message about the importance of promoting an increased role of women in the governance of Burma;
Using an experienced implementing agency, like the Parliamentary Centre that has unparalleled experience in the implementation of parliamentary strengthening programs on a global scale, was essential for the success of the visit in terms of all: program design, planning and organization, debriefing and assisting members of the delegation.
• As already proposed, a visit to Canada should be organized by a delegation comprising Burmese MPs and officials to study in more detail the Canadian system of governance;
• The prime minister of Canada as well the speaker of the house of commons should travel to Burma to encourage further reforms in the country and reinforce the message of “no going back”;
• The Parliamentary Centre should invest in further capacity building proposals for Burma, including areas such as the freedom of press and judicial independence;
• A Canada-Burma Parliamentary Group should be formed with the goal of strengthening ties between the two Parliaments (the Burmese Parliament has elements of the Indian Parliamentary democracy which on its end has borrowed heavily from the Canadian model);
• The involvement of the Canadian Embassy in Burma should go beyond trade issues and focus on the strengthening of democratic institutions in the country.