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Is the Burmese government trying to undermine Parliament?


(Mizzima) – A constitutional issue is developing in the Burmese Parliament over the question of whether or not parliamentary committees are “union level” bodies. The issue could be critical, say lawmakers, if the government is to have an effective checks and balances system.

Lower House Speaker Shwe Mann. Photo: MizzimaLower House Speaker Shwe Mann in a press conference on February 20 said, “Parliamentary committees have to serve their duties, whether they are called union level or not. In completing these duties, the Union Government should cooperate with our committees. If not, the legislative check and balance system will be lost.”

Many Parliament lawmakers have spoken out on the issue in Burmese media, cautioning the government not to assume government officials and ministers can override the legislative and committee processes.

The debate has been intensified by a “growing disagreement between the government and Parliament over budget and national planning bills,” according to an article in the March 5 issue of The Myanmar Times, an English-language newspaper.

Last month, Union Attorney-General Dr. Tun Shin informed the Parliament that the Constitutional Tribunal was investigating whether the 2008 Constitution defines committees, commissions and bodies established by the houses of Parliament as Union-level bodies. If it decides they are not, these bodies could potentially lose the right to scrutinize Union-level bills such as the budget, the newspaper said.

The decision to seek the tribunal’s adjudication has raised fears that the government is attempting to cut off criticism and debate on important pieces of legislation, lawmakers told the newspaper.

Shwe Mann said, “If [the government] does not agree with us, it will mean the democracy that we are trying to establish will not be alive. But we hope that from these events we will gain experience and eventually reach our goal.”

Thein Nyunt, the Upper House member for Thingangyun, said section 11(a) of the Constitution states that the “three branches of sovereign power namely, legislative power, executive power and judicial power are separated, to the extent possible, and exert reciprocal control, check and balance among themselves.”

He told the newspaper that now is not the right time to be arguing “when there are a lot of reform tasks to be done.”

Nan Wa Nu, a Shan Nationalities Democratic Parry MP from Kunhein, said the move to seek a Constitutional Tribunal ruling on the status of parliamentary committees had “confused” the budget decision process.

“Irrespective of the status of Parliament representatives, it is enshrined in law that we have the right to assess national plans, budgets and contract entered into with foreign countries,” she said.

One lawmaker said the oversight and advisory role of the parliamentary committees was more important than their status.

“All we do is prevent the government from [incorrectly] using its power and make sure the government’s activities follow the law and are in the public interest. Our activities should not be blocked or banned. Similarly, the government should help the Parliament achieve its tasks and show mutual respect. They need to be united,” he said.
Last Updated ( Tuesday, 06 March 2012 17:56 )  

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