In one of his first decisions as the country’s new president, U Thein Sein on March 31 announced that members of new national and regional governments would not receive pay increases out of consideration for the millions in Myanmar who live in poverty.
The former prime minister said those in the government would “continue to enjoy the same rates as that we were paid while were serving at the SPDC central level bodies”, referring to the State Peace and Development Council, which was dissolved on March 30.
The SPDC, using power vested under Article 443 of the 2008 constitution, issued ordinances 2, 3, 4 and 5 on January 10, which set salaries for members of the new government, ranging from K5 million a month for the president to K2 million a month for the lowest-paid positions.
However, U Thein Sein said they would have to forego the pay rises “in consideration of the objective and financial conditions of the nation and the public interests”.
Also affected are Self-administered Zone and Division chairmen and executives and the chairman and members of the Nay Pyi Taw Council.
President U Thein Sein delivered the speech at a swearing-in ceremony for union-level officials in Nay Pyi Taw.
It is not clear how much the measure will save the government, but government salaries mandated under the January 10 ordinances total close to K600 million (about US$670,000) a month.
Kyaukme Pyithu Hluttaw representative U Sai Hsaung Hsi, who is also the vice chairman of the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party, told The Myanmar Times that his party applauded U Thein Sein’s decision.
“As [U Thein Sein] said it in an official speech, it means the government must follow through with what he said. I welcome the sacrifice he is personally making to forego his right, his salary,” said U Sai Hsaung Hsi.
But the chairman of the Amyotha Hluttaw Government’s Guarantee, Pledges and Undertakings Vetting Committee, Dr Aye Maung, said the president should confirm his pledge to indefinitely postpone salary increases by taking it to the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, the combined upper and lower houses.
“If he thinks that the salaries are not appropriate with the current situation of the country, he should seek the agreement of the hluttaw to amend [the January 10 ordinances],” said Dr Aye Maung, who is also chairman of the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party.
Nevertheless, President U Thein Sein surprised some observers with his frank assessment of living standards in Myanmar, stating that the “country has not been a rich one yet”.
“There are still many people whose life is a battle against poverty, whose life is a hand-to-mouth existence, and many unemployed people.
“Therefore, the governing organs at all levels should not seize all the rights and privileges.”
The president also declared salaries and pensions would be increased at an “opportune” time “in proportion to revolving funds of the government, inflation rate, consumer price indexes and GDP”.
Expanding on the pledge he made in his inaugural address on March 30 to fight corruption, U Thein Sein said the first five-year term of the new government would be the “most important in building a modern, developed democratic nation”.
“To achieve this goal the government must be a clean one with good governance,” he said. “To be a clean government, we must abstain from corruption and bribery, which tarnishes the image of the nation and the people.
“What is very important is that we must not abuse the mandates in the interest of our friends and relatives. Only then, can our government be recognised as a clean government.”
He also said neighbouring countries and the international community were “watching with great interest” how the new government “will discharge its duties, and relations and cooperation between the Union government and Region/State governments”.