Concerns raised over mooted military control of immigration

NAY PYI TAW — A proposal to transfer oversight of immigration to the Ministry of Home Affairs has raised concerns about a last-minute push to consolidate the military’s hold over sections of the civil service.

President U Thein Sein sent a letter to the Union Parliament on January 22 suggesting the Ministry of Immigration and Population be downgraded to department level and incorporated into the Home Affairs Ministry, one of three overseen by military-appointed ministries under the terms of Myanmar’s 2008 Constitution.

The letter suggested that immigration and national registration would be administered more effectively under the proposed arrangement, along with reducing the Union budget and preventing “the illegal infiltration of foreigners” through Myanmar’s borders.

At a meeting of the Union Parliament’s Joint Bill Committee on Tuesday, most attendees supported the president’s proposal, though reservations were expressed over passing the bill before the current term of parliament expires on Friday.

The National League of Democracy, which will assume control of both houses of parliament from February 1 and has said that reducing the overall number of ministries will be an early priority, did not support the bill in the committee meeting.  

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Dr Banya Aung Moe, an Upper House MP for the All Mon Regions Democracy Party, told the committee that the timing of the proposal was suspicious.

“We proposed to combine the ministries two years ago, but both houses and the government did not accept it or discuss it. Now at the last moment, they have proposed it. They want it under military control.”

Despite the objections, the bill found support among a wide majority of lawmakers, including those from the outgoing USDP majority, the military and the Rakhine National Party.

RNP chairman Dr Aye Maung, who lost his seat in the November elections, spoke pointed reference to Rakhine State’s Rohingya Muslim population, considered by the government and many in Myanmar to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

“Immigration is an important institution for national security. It is better to put immigration under the supervision of the Home Ministry. It makes national citizens more secure,” he told the committee, adding that strong border controls were necessary to prevent the “genocide” of Myanmar’s citizens.

The proposal will be submitted to Pyidansu Hluttaw for consideration later this week. It is uncertain whether a vote will be held in the remaining days of the current term of parliament.

Asked if there would be any issues if the coming NLD government decided to revert the ministerial arrangements, USDP lawmaker U Aye Mauk said that if the party was unhappy with the proposal, the Constitution gave it the power to revert to the old arrangements with the assent of parliament.

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