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25 June – 1 July: Burma’s Parliament Must Strive for Greater Transparency and Accessibility

July 2, 2012

This Wednesday, on July 4 the Parliament will resume its work and for the first time will be attended by NLD members elected in the last April 1 by-elections. However, while many media will be in Naypyidaw to report on this symbolic moment, most won’t be able to report what the agenda of the Parliament is for this forthcoming session.

Since it started its activities, Burma’s Parliament has been operating under a veil of secrecy. Many crucial laws that have a direct impact on the country and people’s life have been drafted and adopted behind closed doors, without any substantial deliberation or debate among Members of Parliament.

If the Parliament is to become a democratic tool it must increase its transparency and accessibility. Greater openness will give more legitimacy and trust to the institution. Creating space for people’s participation in the legislative process will be essential for better laws that meet the needs of the people and not just the regime and its cronies.

As first steps towards greater transparency, the Parliament must open its proceedings to the public and inform it in advance of its agenda. It must release documentation and information about its activities in different languages and through a wide range of media: Parliament’s website, live TV, radio, publications, information centers and educational initiatives. Legal reforms to ensure transparency must be undertaken such as legislation on freedom of expression, the right to information and the public right of petition. Outside of Naypyidaw, MPs and political parties must create contact directories and arrange public hearings and broad-based consultations with relevant stakeholders on current legislative matters. If they are to be the representatives of the people’s voice in the Parliament they must know the people’s desires.

On the other side, civil society members, community based organizations and the public in general must seize the moment and work to create a space for lobbying within the Parliament. Few initiatives already started with NGOs lobbying the Parliament representatives to change restrictive rules that govern the registration and operations of NGOs. Members of Parliament can initiate laws, propose amendments and help disseminate concerns and recommendations within and outside the institution. A member of the parliamentary committee has also announced it plans to amend two recently-promulgated land laws following a spate of complaints over land confiscation and ownership disputes.

Therefore, we urge the Parliament and its MPs for its 4th session to take the necessary steps to increase its transparency and accessibility. Many important draft laws will probably be discussed such as the foreign investment law, workers’ rights legislation, and the establishing law of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission. Members of Parliament must widely publicize and disseminate the draft of the laws in Burmese and other ethnic nationality languages and must enable input at all stages of the drafting process in a timely manner. The Parliament, the government and civil society must also start educational and outreach programs about the Parliament’s role and operating rules. Moreover, as the Inter-Parliamentary Union recommended, the international community must also ensure it provides the necessary support to Burma’s transition to parliamentary democracy, including capacity building of MPs.

Greater Parliament transparency and accessibility are fundamental for Burma’s democratic transition to be tangible, irreversible and to belong to the people and represent the people’s voices instead of the regime and its cronies’ interests. However, one must keep in mind that beyond openness, Burma’s Parliament needs more in depth structural reforms and increased capacity of MPs and political parties to make it truly accountable, independent and representative.

News Highlights

In Paris Daw Aung San Suu Kyi says that financial transparency in the extractive industries and business in general is essential to investment; Daw Suu postpones attendance in new parliamentary session due to fatigue

Zarganar asks foreign donors to scrutinize carefully to ensure that money actually gets to the people who are doing the work since civil society is still in its infancy

Inside Burma

Official death toll in Arakan State clashes reaches 78

A member of parliamentary committee plans to amend the recently promulgated land laws following a spate of complaints over land confiscation and ownership disputes

Naw Ohn Hla, a former political prisoner and a former member of the NLD, claims the authorities continue to spy on her since she led electricity protest

Burma remains second largest opium producer in the world according to the new United Nations 2012 World Drug Report

Burma Army is reported to arrest IDPs in Kachin State

Railways Minister Aung Min meets the Karen National Union and exile groups in Mae Sot

Villagers in Karen State worry that the Hatgyi hydropower dam could restart with the signing of the ceasefire agreement

Farmers in Kawthaung Township, Tenasserim Division, worry they will be evicted after a local Burma Army installation put up a signboard last week announcing that it was the owner of the property

State-run media call on foreign entrepreneurs to invest more in the country, saying that foreign investment could help reduce poverty

The Asian Development Bank says it will begin re-engaging with Burma

NLD spokesperson Nyan Win is in court after the government alleged he made false claims of fraud regarding the April by-elections


Rohingya on the agenda of President Thein Sein’s visit to Bangladesh in mid-July

Vietnam’s National Assembly Chairman proposes that Vietnam and Burma strengthen links in economics, trade, investment, socio-cultural affairs and legislative activities

Thailand’s Ministry of Labor announces plan to force migrant women to return to their countries of origin if they become pregnant during their stay in the Kingdom


US senators press Obama to allow investment by US energy companies, voicing fear that US companies would lose out to foreign competitors but the US rules out complete removal of economic sanctions

Derek Mitchell expresses concerns about Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise with regard to the lack of transparency and the level of corruption associated with it

French President Francois Hollande tells Daw Aung San Suu Kyi that France would do everything possible to back the country’s democratic transition

UNICEF and the government of Burma sign an action plan to prevent the recruitment and use of children by the Burma Army and allow for the release of under-age recruits


Without Human Rights, Sustainable Development Will Fail
By Antonio Tujan Jr.
Rights for Sustainability

Burma’s Lure is a Slippery Slope
The Washington Post


Non-governmental organizations lobby members of parliament to change restrictive rules that govern the registration and operations of NGOs

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This post is in: Weekly Highlights