YANGON – Myanmar’s military has been granted a $2.4 billion annual budget, just over 12 percent of total government spending in the poverty-stricken country, according to figures seen by AFP on Wednesday.
The sum, approved by parliament last Friday, is $100 million less than the previous year but still likely to dwarf the money available for the crumbling education and health care systems in the nation of 60 million people.
Under the former military junta which ruled Myanmar for decades, the state budget was not released publicly or put up for scrutiny and oversight.
Analysts say the army helped itself to the country’s funds, notably profiting from a large portion of the oil revenues.
But in a sign of sweeping reforms since 2011, lawmakers have reviewed the 2013-14 budget — which totals $19.49 billion — and in one case even queried the amount handed to the military, whose allies dominate parliament.
“The national planning bill for 2013-14 was approved at the union parliament last week,” Aye Maung, an upper-house MP of the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party, told AFP.
“The defence (military) budget is a little bit less than last year. They will invest about $1.25 billion buying the aircraft, weapons, etc,” he added.
That figure equates to around 20 percent of the $6 billion overall capital spending of Myanmar’s ministries, according to the section of the budget seen by AFP, but does not include other costs such as salaries.
Myanmar has a record of committing just $7 per year per person to health care, a mere 1.8 percent of the total budget and one of the lowest health spending rates in the world, according to a 2009 UN report.
Despite the low spending another parliamentarian said few complaints will be heard.
“The military expenses are untouchable. We will not complain about how much they will use,” a lower-house MP of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The army is currently fighting ethnic rebels in northern Kachin, where it is accused of using air strikes and carrying out human rights abuses.