Local people say that development funds of Ks 100 million allowed for each member of parliament are more effective than aid from international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) in fulfilling their basic needs. However, controversy has erupted between the government and parliament over the implementation of such development projects.
The Ks 100-million development project plan began this fiscal year, but the amount is not enough to fulfill the regional requirements, say local residents.
More effective than INGOs
In the township of Myaungmya, Ayeyarwady Region, most of the Ks 100-million fund is reportedly used in the education sector, while some of the money is also spent on other requirements of the local people.
They say the amount of Ks 100 million is not enough to meet all local needs. However, it is more effective than INGO assistance because the main requirements can be fulfilled. The development efforts of INGOs can be limited as they rely mainly on donors, say the locals.
“The amount of Ks 100 million allotted by parliament is not enough. Actually, there are a lot of requirements for the region. The crematorium repairs at Myaungmya cemetery carried out with this fund are really necessary. The people from three surrounding areas were faced with health problems due to smoke from the crematorium. We asked for assistance from many local organisations and INGOs. But it didn’t work. Now we are glad we received help [from the development fund],” said Thet Paing Kyu from Myaungmya’s charitable youth association.
“Our town has many NGOs and INGOs but their aid is limited. Foreign donors contribute only to the specific projects. Local people also need to contribute. Although the same is true to the parliamentary aids in requiring local people’s contribution, they are also based on pubic needs. So they are more effective,” said Thet Paing Kyu.
“Parliament has provided assistance that the people really need. So it (the development fund from parliament) is more effective, he said.
Local residents of the Cyclone Nargis-hit town of Labutta in Ayeyawady Region also say the Ks 100-million development fund is more effective than the aid from some NGOs and INGOs.
“During the post-Nargis period in Labutta, more NGOs and INGOs emerged. Their responsibility is too little. Donations are limited. So they cannot help us, no matter how important a project it is. Parliament’s development fund is more effective. The people enjoy real benefits,” said Aung Moe Win, member of an association for free healthcare in Labutta.
“They used to rent first-class buildings when they entered the country. And they bought cars and motorbikes. And they hired staff members. Only after that would the remaining money go to the public. If they get one thousand in funding, just three hundred goes to the public. It’s even worse that some staff of [NGOs and INGOs] don’t actually work but just cheat money out of them. Some just tried to have their documents signed by village officials to show that they worked there, but they didn’t actually work and people didn’t get what they said they gave.”
Ma Nan, a youth representative from Ayeyarwady Region who is attending the ASEAN Youth Forum, said that people too often see little or no benefit from the NGOs and INGOs that claim to be helping them.
“The development fund of Ks 100 million granted by the parliament does actually work. It reaches the public. They [NGOs and INGOs] will no longer be needed if MPs, local development support committees and civil society organizations work together effectively,” said Ma Nan.
Evidence of support
On Dawei Island in Mawlamyaing, a new wharf was built from a local development fund of Ks 5 million supported by MPs.
“It was very difficult to ship local products to other areas before. It’s now okay for local people to ship their products, thanks to the new wharf which was financed by the parliamentary development fund,” said Kyaw Khin, a local resident from the island.
In northern Shan State, a new school was officially opened on March 16 in Lwell Ngu Village. It, too, was financially supported by the development fund.
The village has 105 homes and 415 people, which include Lahu, Kachin, Myaung Si and Bamar ethnic races. As a new one-storey school building has already opened, primary level students can now attend school peacefully for the 2014-15 academic year.
“The children can learn in a comfortable environment due to the fund provided by the parliament for the school building. In previous years, about 90 students had to learn with difficulty at the school made of bamboo poles. The old school building has several holes and is not serviceable. I think we can add 50 more students to teach at the new school building,” said Hla Myint, secretary of the village tract development providing committee.
The allowance of K 100 million for each MP is equivalent to the K 300 million development fund for non-governmental organizations. Communities would be lucky to see K 50 million from the latter if the funds are provided to the ministries. The MPs have a close relationship with the people and can negotiate to use the fund for the requirements of the people. It won’t be wasteful because it can use the fund directly, the MPs say.
“So many villages are in my constituency. They all need the fund. There are so many requirements, such as the roads connected to villages and getting clean water. I can only provide three million kyats for the interconnecting road between Kan Thar and Sin Swe villages. The whole village worked for the road with three million kyats and now the road is good. It cost only three million kyats for three miles. If we hand over the construction of the road to the construction companies or the township development committee, I am sure that they will ask for K 30 million,” said MP Hla Swe.
“Ask me anytime…”
Another MP said he could answer any time the government questions the use of the provided fund.
“It is very useful for rural areas. The rural areas are much in need,” the MP said. “We heard that an investigation will be carried out on us for the allotted budget of Ks 100 million. If that is the case, then the government will also have to investigate cases like construction projects where millions of kyats have been spent and the roads are still in ruins or some parts of the roads can’t be found. They (the government) have to investigate the matter accurately.”
Before they received budget approval from the government, the MPs of Hinthada Township made a draft clarification on how they would use the Ks 100 million. Transparency to the public was required before and after using the budget. The public knew that the MPs had to submit the income and expenditure for the budget by March 15.
“Until now, the MPs haven’t had to clarify how they use the allotted budget. There are some voices that express how the MPs use the allotted budget. To be clear from any doubts, there must be transparency. We need to know how the Ks 100 million will be used, and only then can we conclude whether the money is beneficial to the public or not,” said Hla Myint.
No opposition to the constitution
The draft of the development fund was sent to the president for sign-off on February 14. On February 28, the president sent the draft with remarks to the chairperson of the Union Parliament.
According to the president’s message, it is unconstitutional for members of parliament (who have been appointed in accordance with the constitution) to be assigned with regional development tasks that must be performed by the administrative bodies. Therefore, reconsideration of the issue was requested out of genuine good will and a desire to develop good democratic practices, said the president.
The Parliamentary Bill Committee, however, replied that it was not against the constitution on the grounds that these tasks were concerned with every citizen; these efforts, especially to develop the grassroots, were related to the general public; and so they should be implemented in coordination with the MPs who represent the people. They said it was also in line with Article 11 (A) of the constitution, which states that the three branches of sovereign power (legislative, executive and judicial) are separated, to the extent possible, and exert reciprocal control, checks and balances among themselves.
The bill committee also pointed out that these projects are people-based and intended to fulfill public needs. They could be implemented with minimum costs in villages and quarters. So cooperation is required as long as it is not against the constitution.
During the parliamentary discussion on the Union Parliament Development Fund Bill, many MPs supported passage of the bill. They said that this is not intervention in the administration.
“The arrangement is very beneficial for the public—especially since public requirements are not involved in most of the government’s projects and the state’s budget. The lion’s share of projects cooperate with well-established local companies that are closely related to the government. In my experience, the poor-quality latrines that were not suitable for women had been replaced with standard quality latrines in our Thingangyun Township by using the development fund. About 1,000 people are depending on eight substandard latrines. At present, the high quality standard latrines for the public have already been built,” said Thein Nyunt, MP of Thingunkyun Township constituency.
“That’s why we warmly welcome the implementation of communal projects such as the construction of high-quality standard latrines. Moreover, we were able to re-roof corrugated iron sheets at damaged dispensaries in Thingangyun Township after Cyclone Nargis. We made advanced beds for hospital patients, and for pregnant women to give birth at any time. One can imagine that the working class people who are living in urban areas desperately need the development fund amount of Ks 100 million. The people accounting for 70 percent of the present population, who live in rural areas, need it even more than that.”
MP Dr.Banyar Aung Moe said the development fund is also beneficial to the public because the government cannot implement minor projects for the public.
“That’s why our MPs are now cooperating in the projects. But, the government doesn’t like the cooperation. I think they [government] want to do what they want. Our MPs don’t hold the cash, but we have carried out these projects effectively. Nevertheless, that Ks 100 million is very beneficial for the public,” he said.