On 18th May, Myanmar’s Hluttaw (Parliament) reconvened for the first time since Myanmar introduced its nationwide covid-19 social distancing measures. Members of Parliament arrived back in Nay Pyi Taw, the capital city, bringing back important information of how the pandemic was affecting the lives of their constituents and how it impacted their work as MPs. COVID-19 brings forward a challenge in adapting to a new way of doing things, fulfilling their duties and responsibilities, while adhering to social distancing measures.

The government has recently launched the COVID-19 economic relief plan- an important national plan that lays out the blueprint to stabilize and help Myanmar recover from the economic shocks that all sectors are suffering from. To ensure that MPs are supported in their role conducting oversight of this national strategy, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) hosted a webinar titled How MPs can apply Myanmar’s Covid-19 Economic Relief Plan during the second week of the Hluttaw session. The webinar explored Myanmar’s Covid-19 Economic Relief Plan (CERP), and the professional toolkit that MPs can employ to apply and monitor public policy in their work. The MPs who joined the session were particularly interested to discuss how the CERP would support the most vulnerable groups and individuals in Myanmar, and how MPs can ensure help reaches those who need it most.

The webinar was led by Ms. Janelle Saffin, a member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly (Australia).

During the webinar, MPs also discussed the need for parliamentary oversight of CERP implementation, particularly through the monitoring matrix which provides indicators for each of CERP’s action plans. Their discussion also touched upon topics such as hazards of potential outbreak in crowded urban areas, to the disruption of supply chains for basic commodities in remote areas. Daw Shwe Shwe Sein Latt, an MP from Bago Region, raised the gender impact of COVID-19 and CERP. She said that the pandemic made women’s empowerment and macro-economic development more important than ever. She was enthusiastic about the webinar: “I learnt more about how my colleagues are responding to the pandemic, which immediately informs my work in the plenary as well as committees. It’s great to also have an international perspective as part of our discussion.”

U Larma Naw Aung, an MP from Kachin State, discussed the vulnerability of internally displaced persons (IDPs), and the difficulty of responding to COVID-19 in IDP camps. The discussion considered the practical issues involved in the camps, as well as the principle to leave no one behind. For him, the webinar was very fruitful: “It’s a very helpful session. It was great to talk with colleagues, as well as with an MP from Australia who shared practical recommendations for our work as elected representatives during the pandemic.”

Ms. Saffin has reflected on the double challenge that MPs currently face: “Our communities are in great need because of the health and socio-economic impacts of the pandemic. At the same time, social distancing makes it harder than ever for us to carry out our duties. We as MPs need to be creative about how we carry out our duties and responsibilities, and I am pleased to be able to support and share ideas with my parliamentary colleagues in Myanmar. The webinar was a great way for us to reflect on how we serve our constituencies, and to inspire each other to be innovative and try new things – like connecting by videoconference.”

The webinar was organized as part of the Hluttaw Learning Centre’s ongoing professional development support for all MPs. The Learning Centre operates with the support of UNDP and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), through which UNDP has also assisted in strengthening the information and communications technology infrastructure which make events like this possible. One of the key takeaways was that Webinars delivered during pandemic restrictions not only take support to the MPs online, but give them the very important and much needed opportunity to discuss their work, challenges and new approaches with their colleagues and with experienced peers from other countries at a time when national  borders are closed and travel is restricted.

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