Burma’s Ministry of Defense has requested less funding for the 2014-15 fiscal year, although the proposed budget, if approved, would still be the biggest budget of all government ministries.
Defense Minister Lt-Gen Wai Lwin on Tuesday requested a budget of 2.36 trillion kyats (US$2.36 billion) for this fiscal year, about $40 million less than his ministry’s $2.4 billion budget last year.
Although the proposed defense budget is smaller this year, it is still the highest of all budget proposals for ministries, according to Ba Shein, a member of the Parliament Budget Committee who called for greater spending on social services such as education.
“The education system is in ruins,” said the lawmaker, adding that the defense budget proposal would likely be discussed in Parliament next week, along with the budget requests of other ministries.
Of the $2.36 billion requested for the total defense budget this year, $2.282 billion would go toward military projects, while the rest would go toward salaries. Last year the defense ministry had a similar level of funding for projects, at $2.289 billion, meaning that much of the $40 million reduction in the total defense budget this year would come from salaries.
The military projects include building infrastructure for military camps, building roads to connect bases, purchasing vehicles and equipment, offering training and sending trainees abroad.
In addition to the official budget, the Ministry of Defense can use funding from a range of military-backed businesses, including the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings.
The defense minister told Parliament that he requested a smaller budget this year than the budgets of defense ministries in other Southeast Asian countries, including Thailand, which allocates $5.38 billion to defense, and Malaysia, which allocates $4.2 billion.
Under military rule in Burma, a major share of funds went to defense while the health and education sectors were largely neglected. Since President Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government took office, military spending has reduced by half—from about 23 percent of the total national budget in 2011 to 12 percent of a $19 billion total national budget last year.
The education and health budgets are expected to increase this year, but only slightly. Last week the Financial Commission led by Thein Sein proposed a boost to education spending from 4.9 percent of the national budget last year to 5.43 percent this year. It proposed an increase in health spending from 3.15 percent of the national budget last year to 3.38 percent this year.
In 2011 the education budget was 4.3 percent of the national budget, while the health budget was 1.3 percent.
Burma had revenue of more than $16 billion in the 2013 fiscal year but spent $19 billion, leaving a deficit of about $3 billion. The debt will be discussed in Parliament after reports are submitted by the auditor general and the Public Expenditure Committee, according to Ba Shein.
After meeting with the Financial Commission last week, Thein Sein called for a crackdown on tax evasion, recommending a system to provide incentives to taxpayers in the next fiscal year.
May Sitt Paing contributed to this report from Naypyidaw.