NAYPYITAW, Myanmar--For the first time, the parliament in Myanmar (Burma) is holding deliberations on the state budget rather than simply rubber-stamping whatever the generals want.
The previous military junta decreed that 23.6 percent of the entire fiscal 2011 budget would be allocated to military expenses.
But under the new government, military spending is down about 10 percentage points in the fiscal 2012 budget.
Opposition parties have welcomed the change as signaling another step in reforms toward proper democracy.
No parliamentary deliberations were held for the fiscal 2011 budget, even though a nominally civilian government took over last March.
The government released part of the state budget afterward in response to queries from a lawmaker.
The huge allocation for military expenses drew much criticism from opposition parties, which called for more to be earmarked for education and medical care expenses.
This year, U Hla Tun, the minister of finance and revenue, released a draft budget bill for fiscal 2012 on Jan. 30 in advance of parliamentary deliberations.
The government anticipates total revenues of 10.5227 trillion kyats ($13 billion, or 1 trillion yen) against expenditures of 13.0406 trillion kyats.
Military expenses accounted for 14.4 percent of the total, down about 10 percentage points year on year. Education and medical care expenses accounted for 4.73 percent and 2.82 percent, respectively, each up about 1 percentage point.
Tax revenue accounted for less than 15 percent of total spending. The rest will likely be most covered through exports of natural gas and other resources.
"The release of the total picture marks a genuine step of progress," said Aye Maung, chairman of the opposition Rakhine Nationalities Development Party. "The reduction in military expenses and the increased education and medical care expenses comply with what we have demanded. Reforms are certainly under way."
Some point out, in the meantime, that, aside from the state budget, the military has other sources of income, related to concessions for mining natural resources and land acquisitions.
"But we have no means to dig into that matter," Aye Maung said.
The release of the budget bill also came with the public announcement, the first of its kind, that outstanding foreign debt totaled $11 billion.
Japan was the largest creditor at $6.39 billion, interest included. Borrowings from China ballooned in the 1990s and subsequent years, and now total $2.13 billion, the documents said.
Voting on the budget bill will be held Feb. 17 following deliberations at the Assembly of the Union, which will involve lawmakers of both the upper and lower houses.
Approval is considered certain, because the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party and members of the military account for a combined 80 percent of all assembly seats.
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