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.
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