Than Shwe and the Cash Register

Prior to the first session of Burma's new Parliament, junta chief and Senior-General Than Shwe signed a law that gives the commander-in-chief of the military – who is currently Than Shwe himself – the absolute authority to use unlimited "Special Funds" in performing his duties of protecting the Constitution and preserving national sovereignty.

According to the two-page Special Fund Law leaked to The Irrawaddy, "The Tatmadaw [armed forces] commander-in-chief has the authority to use Special Funding in the local currency or foreign currency while providing for the non-disintegration of the Union; the non- disintegration of national solidarity; and the perpetuation of national sovereignty."

"Special Fund means the budget for special needs to safeguard the Constitution and protect the country from external and internal threats," the law says. "The Law must be called the Special Fund Law related to the use of budgets which are necessary for the perpetuation of national sovereignty."

The law, dated Jan. 17, was distributed confidentially among government officials on Feb. 11. It gives the military chief absolute power and discretion in the use of unlimited "special funds" that are not included in the country's defense budget.

"For the spending of the Special Funding, no person or organization can question, propose and audit," the law says.

The only requirement is that the military chief report about "the Special Funding to the President of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar [Burma] at the end of the fiscal year," which is March 31.

Quoting official information distributed to members of the Burmese government, The Associated Press reported Tuesday that 1.8 trillion kyat (US$2 billion), or 23.6 percent of Burma's budget this year, will go to defense. The health sector, meanwhile, will get 99.5 billion kyat ($110 million), or 1.3 percent.

The funds used by the commander-in-chief under the Special Funds Law will be over and above those allocated to the military in the defense budget.

In addition, the 2011-12 budget allocated 20 billion kyat (US$22 million) to the office of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the name of the junta's ruling council, which led observers to question whether the SPDC would be abolished when the new government was formed as the new Constitution seems to require.

Meanwhile, the first sessions of Burma's Hluttaw (Parliament), which is dominated by appointed military officers and representatives of the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), have been ongoing in Naypyidaw.

This week, Pyithu Hluttaw (Lower House) and Amyotha Hluttaw (Upper House) meetings were held separately. They each lasted about one hour, which was longer than the previous meetings of the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (the Union Parliament of both houses), which in some cases lasted only a few minutes.

The bill committees and the public account committees were formed for both houses of Parliament, but many MPs complained that they were just sitting and listening during meetings.

"Under the tightened security, even USDP members felt like people under house arrest," said a USDP MP from Mandalay.

This reprinted from The Irrawaddy, with which Asia Sentinel has a content-sharing agreement