Open Hluttaw launches mobile app for parliamentary oversight

By KYAW LIN HTOON | FRONTIER

YANGON — A local NGO has launched a new app aiming to give Myanmar’s public greater accountability over its elected representatives.

The Open Hluttaw app, developed by Myanma Fifth Estate with funding from the Dutch embassy, provides biographies of Union lawmakers, along with their committee responsibilities and contact details.

Available in English and Burmese, MFE program officer Naw Susan Hilary said at the app’s public launch on Tuesday that Open Hluttaw would allow greater contact between MPs and their constituents than had previously been possible.

“If someone wants to complain about an issue in their constituency, he or she can easily use our app and find out how to contact their representative,” she said.

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The app was designed by local IT firm Sundew Myanmar, whose previous work in the government realm includes the development of a voter registration system for the Union Election Commission in 2015.

“Most people in Myanmar are not familiar with even using emails. But they are familiar with mobile apps and that’s why we used this platform,” said Ma Khin Myat Noe, Sundew Myanmar’s vice president and cofounder.

Ko Soe Lin Htoot, MFE’s founder, said his organisation was committed to bringing more transparency to Myanmar’s parliaments. He flagged support for other initiatives, such as the passage of the long-stalled draft of the Right to Information Law, which would legally enshrine the right of media outlets, civil society and other groups to access government data.  

“The big challenge is lack of reliable data sources. The parliaments couldn’t provide that much [at the moment], so based on the data provided by Open Myanmar Initiative, we had to do the research ourselves.”

Soe Lin Htoot’s previous endeavours included the Results Center Twitter account, used to transmit to the public real time constituency results during the 2015 general election and 2017 by-election.

While many IT startups in Myanmar are struggling to find a client base, audience demand for government related apps is strong. The Open Hluttaw app has been downloaded more than 1,000 times since its Tuesday launch.

“I’ve already installed Open Hluttaw,” said Thinzar Shunlei Yi, president of the Yangon Youth Network. “But I still hope to see more apps like this, for example a violence tracker app that allows women to easily report crime and ask for help from the police.”

Like Soe Lin Htoot and other civil society leaders, Thinzar Shunlei Yi said digital development had endless applications for improving governance in Myanmar. With a dearth of reliable public opinion polling, she suggested the development of a polling app that could be used by the government and parliamentarians to gauge public support for policies.

The government itself has lagged behind in the digital space, with ministries working off antiquated websites and most official communication taking place over Facebook or through Gmail accounts.

MFE has pledged to keep improving the Open Hluttaw app, and plans to add information on state and regional lawmakers in the future.

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