Thursday, September 21, 2017

President-elect wins vote after first speech

President-Elect U Htin Kyaw delivered his inaugural speech to parliament yesterday, outlining his plans to slash the number of ministries while assuring civil servants they would not lose their jobs.

President-elect U Htin Kyaw (left) and U Phyo Zay Yar Thaw speak after yesterday’s hluttaw session. Photo: Aung Htay Hlaing / The Myanmar TimesPresident-elect U Htin Kyaw (left) and U Phyo Zay Yar Thaw speak after yesterday’s hluttaw session. Photo: Aung Htay Hlaing / The Myanmar Times

MPs of the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw voted overwhelmingly in favour of the proposals, with the numbers indicating that parliament’s 25 percent bloc of appointed military delegates had backed the National League for Democracy president-elect.

U Htin Kyaw, a 69-year-old former academic appointed for his loyalty by NLD leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, appeared nervous in delivering his five-minute speech, hesitating at times over the text and using the wrong name for the Ministry of Finance.

Under the NLD plan, the 36 ministries of the current military-backed government would be reduced to 21, while the headcount of ministers and their deputies would be slashed.

U Htin Kyaw presented the proposal as primarily a cost-cutting exercise, although to some observers the plan appears aimed at presenting a clear break with outgoing President U Thein Sein’s government, which expanded the numbers of ministers and their deputies to over 90 to create posts for ex-military personnel.

The savings of K5 billion (US$4.1million) on ministers’ salaries and allowances that U Htin Kyaw has projected over five years would make barely a dent in the K3.9 trillion budget deficit forecast by the current government for the next financial year.

“Only if we reduce as much use of spending as we can will our country escape from being a least-developed country,” U Htin Kyaw said.

Savings would be redirected to much-needed sectors such as education, healthcare and rural development, he said, listing what appear to be the government’s policy priorities. “If so, public revenue can be kept in reserve for our next generation and the country will develop,” he added.

He said his cabinet, expected to be named in parliament today, would work toward running a smaller but qualified Union government that fosters a “clean” society and national prosperity.

He also stressed the importance of establishing the new Ministry of Ethnic Affairs which he said was “essential for achieving lasting peace and development based on unity among ethnic groups across the nation”.

U Htin Kyaw sought to calm civil servants worried about their jobs under the government shake-up.

“I would like to say there should be no worry over redundancies if staff work in accordance with laws and rules and regulations,” he said.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who is barred by a constitutional provision from holding the presidency but has said she intends to govern “above” the president, has also reassured civil servants that they might need to be reassigned and retrained but will not lose their jobs.

U Htin Kyaw attended today parliament meeting wearing pinny taik pone – a light-orange cotton overcoat synonymous with the NLD – rather than his customary white taik pone.

Two votes were held on the proposals. On the restructuring of ministries, 611 votes were cast in favour, with three against and 22 abstentions. On the reduction of ministers, 601 MPs were in favour, 22 against and 14 abstaining.

Parliament also made an amendment to the list of ministries, changing the proposed name from the Ministry of Culture and Religion to the Ministry of Religion and Culture.

Translation by Zar Zar Soe