MPs’ discussions in public in the Hluttaw are not only an avenue to let the public examine MPs and their party’s opinions but also to enable citizens to understand and criticise their different stances. Moreover, it is an important way for constituents to judge their MPs’ competence, including:
- the extent to which they prepare for the discussion (e.g. reading around the subject or consulting with experts)
- how accurately they are representing the people from the local area they were elected to serve
- how well they are holding the Executive to account – a primary function of the Legislature
Holding Hluttaw discussions in public reflects an essential principle of representative democracy and citizens’ right to information. Whilst there must be clear rules and limits to govern proceedings in the Hluttaw, overly restrictive restraints on discussions will prevent citizens from coming to an informed understanding of MPs’ positions, and ultimately will result in inferior legislation.
For example, discussions can be frequently constrained by time limits. One notable example of this was during the discussion on the National Record and Archive Bill by U Soe Thein or U Maung Soe, MP of Tanintharyi Constituency (10), on the 18th-day meeting of Second Amyotha Hluttaw’s 13th regular session.
U Soe Thein proposed about 20 amendments, and the amending provisions were about 8. Within the time he was given, he spoke quickly to cover all the proposed amendments but did not succeed.
Permitted time: 6 minutes
In the Hluttaw By-laws, there are provisions relating to Hluttaw discussions. Regardless of the prescribed clauses, only 6 minutes is allowed in the Hluttaw meeting plan for individual MPs to speak. With the consent of the Hluttaw Speaker, an MP can extend the period of discussion by a few minutes.
Hluttaw Laws and By-laws emerged in 2010, including a By-law with provision for time limits for discussion. In Article 22: Discussion and time limit, an MP can discuss for a maximum of 20 minutes, and the speaker can allow continuation in light of the discussions within the Hluttaw, or the topic.
Time limit given by the amendment by-law
There were amendments to Hluttaw Law and By-laws during the First Hluttaw session. In terms of discussion time, the Pyithu Hluttaw’s Amendment By-law allows 15 minutes for individual MPs to speak on a topic, and 10 minutes for them to submit a motion, including speaking on an urgent motion. In the Amyotha Hluttaw each representation should be limited to 10 minutes. Both Hluttaws allow 3 minutes for asking a question. Nevertheless, neither Laws nor By-laws mention a time restraint on the discussion of Bills.
In spite of these by-laws, in practice MPs get only 6 minutes to speak on an issue in Hluttaw. As the case mentioned above, it is crystal clear that restrictions turn out to be insufficient for an MP to cover what he/she wishes to discuss within the given time.
After MPs’ discussions, the speaker urges MPs to meet the Bill Committee to continue their deliberations. However, currently in Myanmar – unlikely in most parliamentary systems - discussions in Committee are behind closed doors and the public have no access, placing further restrictions on citizens’ rights to information about how their Legislature is functioning.
Ideal time limit
Instead of focusing on constraining time limits for MPs to discuss the law, and being overly concerned with discussion being too time-consuming, the Hluttaw Speaker would be well advised to instead focus on provisions that forbid discussion on topics of irrelevance. Changes could be made without amending the Constitution or the Law. By-laws that limit time for discussion should be reconsidered and amended. If so, citizens will have an opportunity to clearly see the competence and ability of their MPs, in accordance with citizens’ rights to public information.
By Hla Myo Kyaw