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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2784

Myanmar needs to increase social sector budget

By – Zin Linn

Myanmar has declared publicly building itself as a democratic civilization since President U Thein Sein took the office. In a democratic society, government has to take responsibility for citizen’s social welfare, such as healthcare and schooling.

Weak public healthcare may put people’s lives at risk. It’s the government’s accountability to take effective measures in order to prevent stealing of social sector funds and reduce wastage and to cooperate with anyone or any organizations devoting themselves to health care services and education branch.

Investment in education is the most advantageous development project for a nation, President Thein Sein said during last year February visit to University of Kalay in Sagaing Division which located in western Burma.

There, President Thein Sein met rector and faculty members from Kalay University and then, he paid a call at Kalay District General Hospital to encourage patients within reach, according to the state-run newspaper.

Even though U Thein Sein said that investment in education is the most cost-effective development venture for the nation, his government similar to the previous military regime has allotted insufficient amount for the educational budget. It means President's words and realistic activities in educational field are poles apart.

In March 2011, National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi criticized the previous 2011-2012 budget for allocating too much of its funds to the military and not a sufficient amount to social services such as health and education. Many researchers found that the consecutive Myanmar government’s investment in healthcare is one of the lowest worldwide and that the health sector has been weakened by widespread corruption.

So, political opposition and independent observers condemn the junta for the amount spends on the defense budget, while key areas such as education and health are neglected. The Government Gazette released by the previous military junta says that the health sector gets 99.5 billion kyat ($110 million), or 1.3 percent of this budget year 2011-12. That means regime spends less than $2 per head on public healthcare.

For that reason, people had asked International Community for tighter pressure on the former military regime until the ruling generals commit themselves to democratic reforms.

Myanmar’s spending on social sector – health and education - has conventionally been very near to the ground. Most recent data as provided by the International Monetary Fund, suggests that as part of the current Myanmar reform package, the Myanmar Government has increased current health and education spending over the last year by 78 and 30 per cent respectively. However, even with this increase current spending still represents less than 2 per cent of Myanmar’s Gross Domestic Product, according to UNICEF’s statement released on 6 November 2013.

Hence, political analysts and independent observers criticize the government for the amount spends on the defense budget, while key areas such as education and health are overlooked. Consequently, investment in education seems to be one of the lowest in the world and that the state-sponsored educational growth may be weakened as usual due to widespread corruption which is safe under protection of military elite.

As a matter of fact, an assessment of social sector budget is the underlying requirements to improve the proficient manpower resource of the country.

In the context of the country’s social and economic reform process, it is important to focus on people centered development. As the reform process is a key for the progress of Myanmar, the government must review lots of policies including social sector budget policy in order to strengthen the workforce or manpower resources of the country. The relationship between social sector spending and the economic growth of the country cannot be separated as they are the two facets of a coin.

Yet Myanmar has much to be done to transform its society from government’s blueprint to genuine development in the daily lives of all citizens, especially those who are currently marginalized, disadvantaged or excluded. In recalling the Vienna Declaration, Myanmar should put emphasis on the principle of non-discrimination and protection for all individuals and groups regardless of nationality, ethnicity, religion, disability, gender, sexuality or other status.

In the face of the challenges of centralization and bureaucratic inflexibility, Myanmar educational sectors ought to draw attention to the importance of individual competency, personality and freedom of thought. It is essential that compliance and capability of the ministerial executives to lead and implement the reforms. In general, there is awareness in support of educational reform as Myanmar needs amending its outdated educational system. Assistance for global information and realistic educational implementation is seriously needed at all levels of educational sections right through the country.

Education sector of Myanmar needs more than just upgrading buildings, classrooms, and related physical infrastructure. Even though government regularly earns several billion dollars from natural resources exports, it allows little investment in education and health sectors. Myanmar government spends almost all income from natural resources on a military purpose of waging war against the country’s ethnic minorities, instead of sharing social welfare expenditures to those ethnic people.

The government must respect the right to education for every citizen. The Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental levels. Elementary education shall be compulsory.

Technical and professional education shall be made generally available to all and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of free will. President U Thein Sein needs to educate his officialdom to respect the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a compulsory.

Funding of education must be foundation of investment for the nation’s future. Opportunities of education as well as healthcare must go well with the new economic system of the nation since healthy and intelligence manpower resource is vital in transformation period.

U Thein Sein should steer clear of mismanagement of budget in order to promote national education to be in line with a new technology-based economic system. Cutting education and healthcare expenses will cause the country incompetent in the forthcoming Asean free market or ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) due to lack of healthy and intelligence labor force.

- Asian Tribune -

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