Training in Myanmar – February 2013

Richardson Center for Global Engagement Budget Training

Naypyitaw, Myanmar

“The first, the best and the favorite workshop”—U Hla Myint Oo, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee

The Richardson Center was proud to provide the first training in Parliament for MPs and staff in Naypyitaw, the capital of Myanmar. The budget training walked MPs from five different political parties step-by-step through a typical budget process, including negotiations between different houses and the executive branch. Twenty members of the lower house, ten members of the upper house and ten staffers attended the four-day workshop.  They worked on developing and explaining priorities and creating future spending plans.

After 50 years in political isolation, Myanmar is shifting to a democratic system and is embracing assistance from international governments and organizations.  Because of this new political freedom, many of the institutions, processes and community outreach are in the nascent stages.  With no experience in democratic governance and processes, it is a struggle for the 664 members of Parliament to actively participate and be able representatives for their constituencies.

When Governor Richardson came to Myanmar in October 2012 and met with legislators and government officials, he was asked by the ruling party and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to organize trainings for parliament members and staff.  The Richardson Center worked with Foreign Relations Chairman, Hla Myint Oo on organizing the training, which successfully took place from February 18-21.

During the four-day training, the trainers worked with MPs and staff from the budget committee and other related committees.  The training focused on the general process, how to parse the budget, how to amend the budget, and how to work with the various ministries.  The class was workshop style, giving the participants the opportunity to work on a particular task together. The training addressed the role and responsibilities of parliamentary committees in a democracy.  It introduced important concepts related to parliamentary committees’ role in a democratic government, and discussed best practices to fulfill this role.  Participants were encouraged to discuss and raise questions about the issues and concepts that were discussed.

Four trainers with diverse budget backgrounds came to Myanmar for the week to work one-on-one with the participants. The trainers all had a wealth of experience with budget processes at the local, state and national level. The trainers included: Nathan Fletcher, the Senior Director of Corporate Development for Qualcomm, Inc. and former State Assemblyman who represented California’s 75th District; Joseph Jones, a Legislative Assistant to Iowa Senator Tom Harkin in Washington, DC; Pete Buttigieg, Mayor of South Bend, Indiana; and Jason Matthews, a lobbyist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. They were assisted by two local translators, Tin Ma Ma Htet and Saw Naing, and consultants Mindy Walker and Mickey Bergman.

Day 1

Following the opening ceremony and introductions, the trainers tackled the basics of budgeting and how a budget reflects a government’s priorities. The group discussed the differences between discretionary and mandatory spending, long-term versus short-term and different tiers of priorities. The trainers walked through the typical state budget process, using various case studies to demonstrate the do’s and don’ts of budgeting.

Day 2

“The right people gathered for the right workshop at the right time.” –participant

The second day of training went into depth on the committee’s role in the budget process and addressed issues for committee members to consider when reviewing the budget.  The session focused on the various roles of a committee and committee members in the lawmaking process.  The trainers discussed legislative negotiation, working with other members of parliament, and lobbying tactics.

The real work for the MPs commenced on the second day.  Following up on the information learned on the first day, the group was divided into three teams: one representing the executive and his cabinet, one representing the lower house and one representing the upper house.

The president and his ministers had to come up with their top seven budget priorities and what percentage of the budget they would allocate to each.  The president then had to give a budget address to the parliament, outlining his priorities.

Each house of the parliament then took the budget and decided what they would cut or add to the budget. While the bodies discussed the changes, members of the executive team, representing various interests and ministries lobbied the houses on their issues.

The day was full of rousing speeches, real debate and honest discussions about what will help Myanmar in the future. Chairmen of the committees were selected democratically and the members were all fully engaged in the conversation.

Day 3

Effective strategies, useful information, good facilitators. What else do we need? –participant

On the third day the training team visited a floor session in the lower house where they were debating several pressing issues.

During the training the participants were divided into four groups comprised of members of the executive, upper and lower houses to form conference committees. Through tough negotiation and compromise, all four groups came up with a conference budget that reflected the struggles they had among the bodies.

Each group reported their results on the board and we discussed the major differences between their compromises.  The trainers also worked with the participants to discuss how governments raise revenues through taxes, fees and debt.

Day 4

“Please come and give more workshops like this”–participant

On the fourth day, the trainers discussed the important role the legislature plays in oversight. Issues discussed in the session included why oversight is so important to democracy and what role committees play in conducting oversight.  The trainers used role playing and scenarios to encourage legislators to work on their critical questioning of government officials.

Through the exercise, the legislators learned why it is important for committees to provide a forum for public debate and how oversight increases the transparency, accountability, and effectiveness of government. The trainers used specific examples of what lack of oversight can lead to and how wasteful spending can happen at all levels.

On the last day, the parliament hosted a closing ceremony where the trainees were presented with their certificates of completion and the trainers were given traditional Myanmar clothing by the hosts.  Mickey Bergman spoke about how pleased the Richardson Center was with being the first international organization to offer formal training to the parliament.  He vowed that the Richardson Center would continue to work with the parliament on further capacity building workshops.