Defense budget spending under the National League for Democracy (NLD)-led government remains high and still lacks transparency, members of Parliament told The Irrawaddy.
â€œEvery year, the defense budget is the highest, weâ€™d like to know why it has increased this year,â€ said Lower House lawmaker Phyu Phyu Thin of Mingalar Taungnyunt.
â€œIn countries undergoing democratic transition, [the government] usually increases health and education spending which are beneficial to the people.â€
In the U Thein Sein government budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year, the education budget was 1.405 trillion kyats, the health budget 753 billion kyats, and the defense budget 2.750 trillion kyats.
In the 2017-18 fiscal year budget drawn up by the NLD government, the education budget accounts for 8.4 percent of the total budget with 1.761 trillion kyats and the health budget accounts for five percent with 1.077 trillion kyats.
While these two ministries account for over 13 percent together, the defense budget alone is set at 2.915 trillion kyats or nearly 14 percent of the total budget of 20.59 trillion kyats.
Phyu Phyu Thin questioned the transparency of the defense budget while discussing the Union Attorney-General Officeâ€™s analysis report on the 2015-16 fiscal year Union budget at the Union Parliament on Tuesday.
â€œI want the [defense ministry] to release [financial records] transparently. As they are using public funds, details should be released so that people can know if their money is being wasted or if there is corruption,â€ she told The Irrawaddy.
U Khin Cho, secretary of the Joint Public Accounts Committee, said the Union Attorney-General Office does not have the mandate to audit defense expenditures in details, but can only roughly check the capital and operating expenditures.
â€œThe Auditor-General Office is not authorized to audit the expenditures of the Tatmadaw in detail. Our [public account] committees can only check the report of the Auditor-General Office,â€ he told The Irrawaddy.
The NLD government did not cut the defense ministryâ€™s proposed budget in consideration of its national reconciliation policy and the Union-level committees which review budget proposals rubber stamped the overall proposed budget except for some duplicated projects, said Lower House lawmaker U Aung Hlaing Win.
â€œWe wonâ€™t cut the defense budget according to our partyâ€™s policy of national reconciliation and we canâ€™t investigate if that military equipment [proposed in the budget] has actually been bought or not,â€ said U Aung Hlaing Win.
â€œAs the country is at war, the defense budget will be large. That amount seems to be a burden, but I think it is just enough for the Tatmadaw â€“ as the Myanmar is called — because it has around 500,000 soldiers. It is hard for them to reduce it. I donâ€™t think they are asking for more than is necessary,â€ he added.
At a defense ministry press conference discussing its activities over the past year, military leaders said the defense expenditure was exempted from auditing by civilian departments because of the confidentiality of state defense and military procurement.
According to the Ministry of defense, the defense budget accounted for 14.62 of the total budget in 2011-12 when the U Thein Sein government took the office, 14.08 percent in 2012-13, 13.27 percent in 2013-14, 12.70 percent in 2014-15, 13.64 percent in 2015-16, 14.30 percent in 2016-17, and 13.95 percent in 2017-18.
Maj-Gen Myint Nwe of the Tatmadaw told the Parliament on Jan. 31 that the defense ministryâ€™s estimated revenue was 73 billion kyats, and estimated expenditure was 2.9 trillion kyats in the 2017-18 fiscal year, of which operating expenditure was 1.7 trillion kyats and capital expenditure was 1.3 trillion kyats.