Australian parliament supports Myanmar needs assessment

Inter-Parliamentary Union mission identifies priorities.

The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) is urging the international community to ensure it provides the necessary support to the country in its transition to parliamentary democracy after 50 years without a representative legislative body.

 It follows a 10-day IPU needs assessment to Myanmar earlier in May. The director of the Australian parliament’s International and Community Relations Office was part of the IPU team assessing the needs of the Myanmar parliament. The mission found that support in modernising the parliament will require a consistent and coordinated approach by national authorities and international organisations. It also stressed that support should be for priorities identified by the Myanmar parliament itself.

The IPU mission found that though current reforms were initiated by the government, the Myanmar parliament was also emerging as a driver of change in the country. It highlighted the large number of new legislation adopted on democratic and economic reform and amendments to many other laws on a range of issues in the short life of the parliament.

However, the mission found the young parliament was acutely aware of the fundamental challenges it faced to make it a modern and effective institution. This included little technical and institutional capacity to formulate policy and implement decisions.

Outdated procedural rules, the absence of a comprehensive library and research facility needed to inform the legislative process, the lack of a transparent and inclusive system for determining parliament’s programme of business, and the inefficient organisational structure of parliamentary administration were some of the many hurdles faced by the parliament.

Among the more than 50 recommendations made by IPU mission was the critical need to provide inexperienced MPs and parliamentary staff with the full range of skills to do their job.

It highlighted the need for frank and open talks between parliament and executive government on cooperation between them on legislative process and parliamentary oversight over government as well as the need to review and strengthen the current parliamentary privilege on freedom of speech in order to ensure MPs can speak their mind in parliament without negative repercussions.

In the longer term, the mission recommends the review of the structure and composition of parliament which currently includes 25 per cent of non-elected members appointed from the military.

Another IPU expert mission to Myanmar planned for June and ahead of the next parliamentary session in July, will begin work to help parliamentary authorities establish a much-needed modern library. It is one of several the organisation is undertaking this year to support Myanmar in its transition to parliamentary democracy with funding for these and a long-term programme of support being sought.