Posted in Legislative Research on May 15, 2020

Following our March policy briefing on communicable diseases, The Ananda has worked with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) to produce this policy brief with a selection of suggested questions from MPs to the government, ahead of the reconvening of Hluttaw on 18th May 2020. These questions could be raised during the debate.


The Union Hluttaw will reconvene on 18^th^ May 2020, to discuss the following agenda items:

  • COVID-19 response planning and funds

  • Prevention and Control of Communicable Disease Bill

  • Supplementary budget bill

  • Other bills returned from the President's Office: Industrial zones and Motor vehicles

This briefing covers matters relating to the COVID-19 response plan. For background reading on the Motor Vehicle Safety and Industrial Zones Bills please see:


There is now a range of resources available on the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact in Myanmar and around the world. In a previous policy briefing on communicable disease we provided a background to the pandemic, an introduction to the main policy challenges and the role of parliaments and MPs. Links to relevant further reading are provided throughout this document.

The role of MPs during the COVID-19 pandemic

Community representation

  1. Represent the most vulnerable

  2. Community leadership

  3. Informing the public

Government oversight

  1. Asking about public health response

  2. Asking about the emergency relief response

  3. Asking about communication with the public

  4. Asking about anti-corruption measures

  5. Prepare for scrutiny of COVID-19-related legislation

Ensuring continuity of parliament's role

  1. Asking about how Hluttaw will continue to operate effectively and safely

  2. Ensuring Hluttaw engages regularly with the public

For more detail, see this briefing

Myanmar, like every country in the world, has already been severely affected by the current pandemic. A summary of the situation as of 14th May is as follows:

  • Myanmar recorded its first confirmed case of COVID-19 on 23 March 2020.

  • On 14^th^ May 2020, there have been a total of 181 cases, 79 recoveries, and 6 deaths linked to the disease (MoHS).

  • Whilst the case count is very low, very little testing (so far 12,482 tests have been carried out) has been done in Myanmar, and so this is likely to be a significant underestimate.

  • A safe working assumption, therefore, is that the virus has been present in Myanmar for much longer than assumed and has spread more widely than we think.

  • There are currently 58,622 people in quarantine centres around the country as of 12^th^ May(DPH).

  • All ports of entry to Myanmar are currently closed, with the exception of some relief flights, negotiated repatriations of migrant workers, and imports of emergency medical equipment.

  • There has recently been some economic re-opening, however hundreds of factories around the country remain closed, as do restaurants and bars. The tourist industry also lies in a dormant state due to a collapse in visitor numbers.

The Government has so far responded to the pandemic in a number of ways. They have used both 'soft power' (advice and guidance), and 'hard power' (orders and notifications) to seek to contain and delay the spread of the disease. As we move beyond the initial response, we are entering a new phase of policymaking, the aims of which should be:\ Continued containment of the contagion, and protection of the most vulnerable

  • Maintaining continuity of the public health system, and protection of frontline health workers

  • Mitigating economic and social impacts

The agenda for the forthcoming Hluttaw session beginning on 18^th^ May reflects these priorities. The remainder of this briefing focuses on the COVID-19 response plans and offers suggested questions MPs might ask during the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw debate. As organisations committed to transparency, accountability and democracy, we would be delighted to see as many MPs as possible playing a full and active role in the forthcoming debate!

During unprecedented times such as these, some governments may be tempted to cast parliamentary oversight as a hindrance or impediment. However, the role of parliaments during such times is all the more important. MPs worldwide should not feel prevented from carrying out their duties as parliamentarians and should join a vigorous debate about their government's next steps. This is in addition to the valuable role MPs have been playing in their communities during difficult times, but is no less import.

Covid-19 Response Plan

All governments are seeking to secure new and redirected funds to contain/delay the virus spread, support the healthcare system and mitigate economic/social impacts. The Myanmar government has brought these objectives together in a single plan: 'Overcoming As One: COVID-19 Economic Relief Plan' (CERP) published on 27^th^ April.

The following are some suggested questions MPs might wish to ask during the debate. They are based on our review of the CERP, informed by issues raised by the private sector and civil society in Myanmar (through various news outlets). We have also reviewed relevant sources relating to international experiences of COVID-19 policymaking and parliamentary oversight.

Response Plan Actions

Private sector support

  • "The CERP refers to measures for small and medium businesses through 100 billion MMK worth of loans. This is welcome support for the small firms that are the lifeblood of Myanmar's economy. How will decisions relating to the allocation of these loans be taken to ensure transparency and fairness? For example, will clear weightings/scoring used to assess the criteria be published for the loans, along with minutes of the relevant decision-making meetings? Will members of such meetings be required to declare any relevant interests, such as connections with businesses applying for loans?"

  • "How will the government ensure that all eligible businesses for these loans are aware of their availability? Many hotels or guesthouses, for example, may be in remote rural areas and may not be aware of this opportunity. What communication strategy has been put in place, who is in charge for it, and how have authorities in states and regions been informed on the means of outreach to local eligible business?"

  • "The cut-make-pack garment and tourist sectors are facing great challenges. However, how will the government support small firms in other sectors, such as teashops, restaurants and other local stores, for example?"

  • "Welcome cuts have been made to taxes, including on income, export and commercial tax. How long will these cuts apply? Has the cost of this loss of income for the government been factored in as part of the overall cost of the response plan? Will the government publish its estimates and calculations?"

Further views from the business community on the CERP are provided in this Irrawaddy article.

Promoting investment

  • "Action Plan 2.3 of the CERP calls for expedited investment decisions and streamlined procurement processes. Given the entrenched problem of corruption and cronyism in Myanmar, how will the government ensure that COVID-19 is not misused as justification for circumventing proper processes -- environmental impact assessment and community consultation, for example -- when making investment decisions? Can the government reassure the Hluttaw that large scale investments that are harmful to the environment and do not have the support of the community will not proceed? If streamlined procurement processes are applied, which other anti-corruption and anti-bribery safeguards will the government put in place?""

Support for workers

  • "The section of the CERP relating to the protection of workers and labourers is notably a lot shorter than the measures devoted to supporting business. How will the government take concrete action to ensure that measures to support businesses do not simply go into the pockets of their owners, but are used in good faith to keep businesses afloat and people employed?"

  • "The extension of SSB funded employment and healthcare benefits (Action 3.1.1) from 6 months to 1 year is welcome. However, the majority of the workforce in Myanmar is not enrolled in the SSB scheme -- farmers and small business owners, for example. How will the government support these people? Could now be a good time to review the need for a universal social security and healthcare system in Myanmar, available for all citizens? Some have argued that this crisis presents just such an opportunity."

  • "Cash and food transfers to households will no doubt make many families a little more resilient through this time of economic hardship. Can the government explain what specific measures will be taken, including by township administrations, to ensure funding gets to those who need it most, and it is not lost to petty corruption or mismanagement? What is the total annual amount foreseen for cash and food transfers to households? "

  • "Sadly, some businesses have already been forced to close or downsize as a result of this pandemic. How will the government ensure that business owners do not misuse this opportunity to lay-off workers who are members of unions? Workers' unions have played a central role in the historic democratic development of our nation and as a government we have duty to protect them and to listen to the collective voice of our workforce. How will the government ensure that supporting business does not mean compromising workers' rights?"

Healthcare system

  • "Action 6.1.2 refers to the import of medical supplies without 'lengthy procurement processes'. How will the government ensure that the streamlining of processes does not lead to compromising the quality of medical supplies, offers value for money, and will not allow favouritism for particular suppliers? Could the government invite the Anti-Corruption Commission to conduct pro-active screening and checks in the sectors and with suppliers who are exempted from regular procurement processes?"

  • "The Ministry for Investment & Foreign Economic Relations (MIFER) has established a committee to lead on the procurement of medical supplies. It seems unusual that the procurement of medical supplies would not be led by the Ministry of Health and Sport. How is the government going to ensure that procurement is led by identified health system needs?"

Response Plan Funding

Funding for the CERP can come from two sources -- internal (reallocation of existing government resources), and external (foreign aid). On his Facebook page U Set Aung said that the government is currently calculating how much of the budget for the plan will come from foreign aid and how much will come from budget re-allocation. Funding sources can be further categorised at:

Internal / government budgets

  • Reallocation of existing budget, requiring a saving to be released from another area of government activity (i.e. a cut in another public service is made to fund COVID-19 related activity)

  • Additional funds from release of reserves, funds released from the sales of assets or donations from the public

  • Internal loans -- i.e. from the Myanmar Central Bank or other domestic private lenders

External / foreign aid

  • Grants from international agencies, to be spent on specific activities

  • Concessional loans from international finance institutions that usually come with other specific conditions

  • Other forms of non-concessional or market lending

Suggested questions relating to the CERP are therefore as follows:

  • "The government has yet to specify where the funding for the CERP is coming from, however various news reports have indicated that approximately $2 billion USD has been offered in foreign aid, and that 22 government ministries will be contributing either 10% of their budget, or a flat contribution of 200 million MMK. Please can the government provide a detailed breakdown for the Hluttaw, of the sources and quantities of funding being committed to CERP delivery?"

  • "There is some confusion about whether Ministries are committing 10% or 200 million MMK -- both have been reported in the news media. Presumably, this funding can only be released by de-committing to some routine activities of the ministries concerned. Please could the government provide the Hluttaw with a breakdown of the level of commitment from each ministry, and clarify what the impact will be on other public services? For example, will the Ministry of Education's contribution impact the budget for teacher's salaries? It is also important to understand how this reduction will affect future years' budgets?"

  • "The CERP uses terms such as 'flexibility' and 'modernising' when referring to budget processes. Is the government able to provide more detail on what these terms mean, and reassure the Hluttaw that there will be no erosion of budgetary oversight by parliament, and that all decision-making relating to public funds will remain bound by the financial regulations?"

  • "A number of departments (eg the SSB) and state-owned (including military-owned) enterprises have significant reserves held in Myanmar bank accounts. What steps has the government taken to negotiate the release of such resources for funding the CERP?"

  • "It has been reported that $2billion in foreign aid has been promised by 5 different international agencies. Can the government confirm whether this figure is in addition to the $50 million World Bank emergency finance already promised, and is in addition to other existing commitments, such as the €5 million for garment factory workers from the European Union?"

  • "The additional funding from international sources should be welcomed. Parliaments have a vital role to play in oversight of public debt management. Can the government clarify what proportion of the $2 billion is in the form of loans, and what the conditions, rates of interest and repayment terms are that have been agreed?"

  • "Can the government confirm that the acceptance of any new loans will remain within the financial regulations and the Public Debt Management Law? What impact will the new loans have on the debt-to-GDP ratio of Myanmar and can the Minister provide a statement about the impact of new finance on Myanmar's fiscal position?"

  • "How do announcements made about grants and loans to support CERP delivery relate to other announcements that have been made about grants, loans or supplies provided by bilaterally from other countries to various government entities?"

Response Plan Monitoring and Oversight

  • "The CERP notes that 'ensuring proper oversight of the funds will be critical not only to implement the stimulus packages effectively but also to enhance the transparency and accountability of the government'. Whilst this statement is welcome, it is not clear from the plan how this transparency and accountability will be achieved in practice. Please could the government provide more detail about how this public transparency and accountability will be achieved? How, and how frequently, will the Hluttaw be updated on progress?"

  • "Would the Speaker wish to share his views on how the Hluttaw might organise itself better to hold government to account for the implementation of the CERP? It may be of value to consider whether the current ad hoc Hluttaw committees are best placed to support this function, or whether a different parliamentary committee arrangement -- a Joint COVD-19 Oversight Committee perhaps -- might be better placed to respond."

  • "Many government committees have been established since the onset of the crisis and it is no longer very clear to constituents or the general public how decisions are being coordinated. Could the government clarify the current governance architecture for the implementation of this plan? Which Ministers are ultimately responsible for which elements of the plan? Will the government aim to provide quarterly reports to the Hluttaw on the implementation of the plan?"

  • "Question time has not been a regular feature in plenary sessions of the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw in recent times. However, would the Speaker be able to consider the reinstatement of question time during joint sessions, in recognition of the serious situation we face, and the enthusiasm of MPs to contribute to government policies?"

Contact details for Ananda and WFD

Htin Kyaw Aye -, +95 9798422440,

Sao Siri Rupa --, +95 9445342644,