Notes from the Field

Photo Blog: Myanmar Parliamentary Study Tour to Korea

May 14, 2014

The first session of the Myanmar’s Parliament was held in January 2011, but the legislative body has been extraordinarily busy catching up on a long list of laws that need to be updated, revised, or established anew to meet the country’s democratic transition and shift toward a market-oriented economy after nearly six decades of centralized control. While the legislative agenda for the upcoming 10th session has not yet been released, a glimpse of what the Parliament debated and passed in the last session provides a good sense of the hectic pace and importance of the laws discussed – from national planning, budget, and taxation, to human rights and media freedoms.

However, Myanmar’s Parliament is challenged by significant capacity gaps. Parliament members and staff are simultaneously required to carry out their work while also establishing for the first time the basic institutions, services, and rules and regulations of a functioning Parliament in a democratic system. The issues under debate are new, and lack of information is hindering a more informed law-making process. The experiences of other legislative bodies that have previously gone through such transitions can provide useful lessons to the Myanmar Parliament. The Asia Foundation in Myanmar supported a study tour, funded by the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), for the Parliament’s Office from April 5-10, 2014, to learn about the structure and operations of the Republic of Korea’s National Assembly, particularly on how the National Assembly provides key information needed by the members of the National Assembly to carry out their legislative and oversight functions.

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Myanmar’s national Parliament, known as the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, is a bicameral body made up of two houses, the Amyotha Hluttaw (House of Nationalities), a 224-upper house, and the Pyithu Hluttaw (House of Representatives), a 440-seat lower house. The eight-member Myanmar delegation included two members of Parliament and six high-level officials from the Union Parliament Office, the House of Representatives Office, and the House of Nationalities Office. The delegation was headed by U Kyi Myint, a member of the House of Representatives and the Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation Committee. Prior to departing for Seoul, the delegation met with Asia Foundation country representative, Dr. Kim Ninh (center), in Yangon. Photo by Ye Min Thiha Yarzar Oo

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Once In Seoul, the delegation was also briefed by Mr. Peter Beck, The Asia Foundation’s country representative in Korea on the country’s political backdrop and culture, as well the Foundation’s long history in Korea. The delegation also explored different aspects of Korean culture and history through a tour of the city of Seoul and a visit to the Demilitarized Military Zone. The delegation was impressed with the passion and commitment of Korean citizens that helped transform Korea from one of the poorest countries in the world to one of the most developed today. Photo by Mi Ki Kyaw Myint

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One of the highlights of the study tour was a meeting with the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea, Mr. Park Byeong-seug (center), who recently visited Myanmar’s Parliament. The delegation members and Mr. Park discussed the issues concerning Myanmar’s democratic transition and the country’s development agenda. Mr. Park was optimistic about Myanmar’s potential given its richness in natural resources and urged the delegation to strengthen the relationship and cooperation between the two countries in the future. Photo by Esther Chung

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The delegation had a special tour of the Korean National Assembly, and also met with the Assembly Secretariat. Given that South Korea also transitioned to democracy after decades of military rule, the evolution and development of the Korean National Assembly were of particular interest to the Myanmar delegation. The delegation members were able to deepen their knowledge of the role, organization, legal status, and activities of the Korea National Assembly Secretariat and its support offices for National Assembly members. A thorough presentation was provided on various committees in the National Assembly, the bill evaluation process, the budget bill deliberation process, and parliamentary diplomacy. Photo by Esther Chung

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Since the research departments in the Myanmar Parliament’s Office have only been established seven months ago, their functions and capacity remain very limited. Therefore, when the Myanmar delegation members met with the National Assembly Research Service (NARS) team, they were interested in different types of issues ranging from the number of personnel for each research division, to research topics concerning legislation and policies requested by committees and members of the National Assembly, to the collection and management of relevant materials. Photo by Esther Chung

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There is currently no budget office at the Myanmar Parliament, and the trip provided an opportunity for the delegation members to study how the Korea National Assembly Budget Office (NABO) was first established and how it has evolved over time. The NABO team shared their work on analysis of budget bills and account settlements, the tax system, economic and fiscal policy, and national program evaluation, and medium to long-term fiscal demands. Photo by Sun-mee Lee

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The Myanmar Parliament has an established library, but there are few books and journals as well as services to aid the MPs with the information they need for informed legislative debates. As such, the Myanmar delegation was keen to understand more about the parliamentary information service and legal information service provided by the Korean National Assembly Library. Delegation members learned how the Korean National Assembly Library maintains a comprehensive research and reference service of domestic and international policies, as well as research and statistics relevant to the legislative process. The meeting concluded with a library tour, with the delegation members noting aspects of the systems and ideas that can be adapted for the Myanmar Parliament. Photo by Sun-mee Lee

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Given the limited capacity within the Myanmar Parliament in responding to the needs of MPs, public outreach and participation in the lawmaking process is also lagging. From the meeting with the Gender Equality and Family Standing Committee, Myanmar delegation members were able to understand aspects related to public access and participation in the law-making process in Korea, such as how a standing committee reaches out to the general public, how members of the public (CSOs, businesses, and citizens) provide input into bills, and the feedback mechanisms that exist in the National Assembly of Korea. Photo by Esther Chung

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The delegation also met with think tanks, academia, research organizations, and non-governmental organizations. From the Korea International Cooperation Agency and the Korea-Myanmar Parliamentarians’ Friendship Association, to the Korean Development Institute School of Public Policy and Management and the Korean Association of Party Studies, delegation members learned of their different roles and programs in support of the National Assembly of Korea, as well as to the development of Myanmar. Photos by Esther Chung

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