April 17, 2019
March 3, 2019
State Counsellor Aung San Sun Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) administration in Myanmar has been heavily condemned by international policy analysts for its absent economic vision and lack of a tangible policy on minority management. But it seems now there is a plan: Suukyinomics, a brand that began with the announcement on 28–29 January 2019 to amend the 2008 military-backed constitution.
Suukyinomics is built on the rule of law and institutional economics. It consists of two broad plans. The Myanmar Sustainable Development Plan (MSDP) aims to achieve a peaceful, prosperous and democratic country. The Myanmar Investment Promotion Plan (MIPP) aims to transition Myanmar to a middle-income economy and persuade foreign investors to part ways with US$200 billion over the next two decades.
The MSDP is structured around three pillars, five goals, 28 strategies and 251 action plans. All are firmly aligned with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and the 12 Point Economic Policy of the NLD government. The MSDP aims to institute strong macroeconomic management and good governance, prudent fiscal discipline and the maintenance of a fiscal deficit no more than 5 per cent of GDP.
The MIPP aims to integrate domestic and foreign investment promotion in line with the directions of the National Comprehensive Development Plan (NCDP) and the Investment Policy of 2016. The MIPP also aims to improve the business environment — by 2020, Myanmar’s rank in the World Bank’s ease of doing business index should drop to below 100.
The Investment Promotion Committee (IPC) will be established to facilitate implementation of the MIPP and is chaired by U Soe Win, the Union Minister of Planning and Finance. Whether it will be a success depends on the effectiveness of Myanmar’s 1.8 million bureaucrats who continue to be criticised for the quality of service delivery. The government of Myanmar is the largest employer in Southeast Asia and its union civil servant board (UCSB) is unnecessary — it is militant and has inflexible business practices.
There are three shining spots to be found in the NLD’s economic reform during the period 2016–19. The first is related to the rule of law. Anti-corruption efforts have been particularly successful. President U Win Myint’s recent dismissal of ex-advocate general of Yangon Han Htoo and ex-lieutenant colonel Yan Naing Tun represent a milestone in the recent five-decade history of judicial practice and public administration. U Win Myint and the NLD’s senior leadership have done well to clean up tainted politicians even within their own party, expelling elected members accused of misuse of entrusted power for private gain.
The NLD has also made successful gains in modernising the Central Bank of Myanmar (CBM). After being heavily criticised by local banks and the private sector for unseating the governor of the CBM U Kyaw Kyaw Maung, reformers U Soe Thein and U Bo Bo Nge were appointed as deputy-governors of the CBM with the remit of correcting institutional difficulties. The CBM is vigorously stabilising the economy by controlling inflation, reducing the money supply and regulating its money and financial markets after issuing the Burmese Way to Basel Regulation in July 2017.
The CBM-floated foreign exchange rate now permits 13 foreign banks to loan project financing and trade financing. Recently, the CBM allowed for the Japanese yen and Chinese yuan to be used as convertible currencies to tackle the dollarisation of trade at Myanmar’s borders. In contrast to previous administrations, the reference exchange rate of the kyat for account transactions against the US dollar and other currencies is released daily on the CBM website. A financial stability report and Myanmar’s monetary report are released periodically.
The third shining spot is infrastructure. Roads are being built and rail tracks upgraded nationwide. Some of Myanmar’s coastal areas and border trade routes are also undergoing development thanks to Chinese investment.
According to Aung San Suu Kyi, it is the right time to invest in Myanmar. Still, provision of meaningful assistance for the stateless people of Arakan, Kachin and other minority groups in Myanmar’s border regions remains unaddressed.
Suukyinomics itself is ambitious and its outcomes will be tested in coming years as the NLD attempts to amend the militarised 2008 constitution. Whether the NLD remains in power come 2020 will partly depend on Aung San Suu Kyi’s tactical skill, strategic manoeuvring and the success or otherwise of this new economic plan.
Naing Ko Ko is a PhD Candidate at the Regulatory Institutions Network, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University.
September 30, 2018
Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad’s Address to the United Nations General Assembly was poised, articulate and to the point.
He did not mince his words when he spoke about global political, economic, social and environmental conditions since his last address 15 years ago, in 2003.
The gist? That the world has not changed much in terms of reform; that the developing world is still being bullied by powerful nations; that the trade war between the US and China continues to impoverish poorer and smaller countries; that there is a growing ambiguity of social values, and that the notion of freedom has become skewed, at best.
Intellectually-sharp and laudable, Dr. Mahathir delivered his poignant message, that the “new Malaysia” is not naive. He told the UN General Assembly that Malaysia will continue to soldier on with other countries, through the United Nations, to make the world a better place, economically, politically, socially and environmentally.
In foreign policy jargon, Mahathir delivered a warning against the acts of dangerous, threatening Hitlers and the misconceptions of peaceful, law-abiding allies.
Overall, his Address championed the aspirations of the developing world and smaller non-aligned nations. However, there is more that we should take away from his Address, in order to render his thoughts more relevant in the domestic Malaysian context.
There are three key areas the new Malaysia should focus on. Mahathir spoke of global terrorism. Although he did not specify the actual definition of the term (or of the word “terrorist”), one can read between the lines. He lamented that there is “something wrong with our way of thinking, with our value system. Kill one man, it is murder, kill a million and you become a hero”.
What he actually means is that the powerful have the capacity to define concepts in order to justify certain acts. Terrorism, as coined by the powerful, is a notion applied to non-state actors, jihadists and transnational communities of oppressed people who react violently to achieve justice.
Powerful states have the sole purpose of pushing their economic and political agendas and so a global understanding of the concept of terrorism was born after 9/11.
Yes, about 3,000 died mercilessly at the World Trade Center in 2001. But almost 130,000 (mostly civilians) perished in one day, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in 1945. This is more than 43 times the death toll at the hands of the so-called Islamic terrorists.
Yet, throughout the decades after World War Two, the acceptable narrative describing US geo-political advances (and those of her allies) was never termed “terrorist” or “terrorism”.
I am not condoning such acts as no mass killing of civilians can be considered civilised behaviour. However, we must consider here the socio-political manipulation of labels.
In the Malaysian context it is happening all around us to the detriment of the common people. For instance, the notion of “the rights of Malays” and “the welfare of the Malays”. What rights are we focusing on? The right to get a job based on race or the right that all qualified and capable Malays should be appropriately awarded?
For me, it is the latter. Yet, certain politicians still choose to speak about the unfair treatment of the Malays and that the new Pakatan Harapan government should be tasked to help bring them up to greatness and to be protected.
The label of “rights” is bandied around but its meaning is deliberately couched in ambiguity for an ulterior political motive.
Using Mahathir’s example of the plight of the Rohingyas, his message was an appeal for “caring”; that just because a nation is independent it does not mean the world should close an eye to domestic suffering and injustice.
He reiterated that nations need to solve the problems of global conflict, racism and bigotry by going back to the root causes.
Similarly, the state of Malaysia’s education system needs care and we need to identify the root causes of the inequality that exists in our schools and universities.
Agreed, our teachers and professors are not being massacred, and neither are our students. But mentally, the massacre began 61 years ago.
The public university leadership has failed to produce thinking professional graduates and to my mind, this is humanity’s greatest form of oppression.
We are all aware that our public university leadership is more concerned with national and international rankings, administrative positions of the academic staff, titles and research funding.
But are the research funds, for instance, channeled into meaningful projects to help society overcome real problems of poverty and discrimination?
Are the researchers and academics “caring” enough to plan such research even though they may not be awarded a future government contract or a datukship?
This brings me to my next point: values. Mahathir commented that there is something wrong with our way of thinking. To my mind, the sole purpose of an education is to instil good values. These include moderation, dignity, integrity, hard work, perseverance and honour. No matter what religion or creed one belongs to, these are universal values.
In post-election Malaysia, this topic has surfaced many times. But I fear it is just a narrative with no substance.
There are many issues that have surfaced since PH took over. From the appointment of key ministerial positions, to presidents of universities, to the PD move, to child marriage, the list goes on.
Nepotism, cronyism and corruption still loom over us but it is not too late for values reform. What better way to start than to realise that, while it is important for us to preach values to the international community, we should apply this to our own society.
There is a need for all Malaysians to delve deeper into Mahathir’s UNGA Address because he was not only sending a message to the superpowers and their allies.We should also see his message as a warning to tackle our own domestic crises; problems that have arisen as a result of past mistakes, on-going stubbornness to address those mistakes and a lack of foresight.
Dr.Sharifah Munirah Alatas is an FMT reader.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.
October 16, 2017
Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has announced plans to set up a civilian-led agency, with foreign assistance, to deliver aid and help resettle Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state.
A close adviser, speaking with Aung San Suu Kyi’s knowledge, said the proposed body had been long planned, and was part of an attempt to show the civilian government she leads, rather than the Burmese military, can deliver humanitarian relief, resettlement and economic recovery.
The Nobel laureate has been criticised for failing to denounce a brutal army crackdown on the Rohingya in Rakhine state, which has forced hundreds of thousands to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh.
Thousands of refugees have continued to arrive in recent days from across the Naf river separating the two countries, even though Myanmar insists military operations ceased on 5 September.
Aid agencies estimate that 536,000 people have arrived in Cox’s Bazar district in Bangladesh, straining scarce resources of aid groups and local communities.
About 200,000 Rohingya were already in Bangladesh after fleeing persecution in Myanmar, where they have long been denied citizenship and faced restrictions on their movements and access to basic services.
The adviser said Aung San Suu Kyi had been deeply affected by the crisis in her country, and was determined to fix it, but needed to be careful not to inflame the situation further.
“She is appalled by what she has seen. She does care deeply about this. I know that does not always come across. But she really does,” said the adviser, who asked not to be named. “What was not clear to her [before now] was how to fix it, and how to give the civilian government the powers it needed”.
In a speech carried by state TV late on Thursday, Aung San Suu Kyi said: “There has been a lot of criticisms against our country. We need to understand international opinion. However, just as no one can fully understand the situation of our country the way we do, no one can desire peace and development for our country more than us.”
Many of Aung San Suu Kyi’s former allies have been exasperated by her failure to criticise the military, but the adviser said she was treading a fine line, knowing her government could become under threat of being overthrown by the military.
The adviser added her speech marked an attempt to wrestle Buddhism out of the hands of extremists.
Aung San Suu Kyi came to power ending years of military rule in a compromise that left the military with sweeping powers.
In her new proposal, she said she was setting up a new body to deliver relief and resettlement on the ground, as well as implement projects in all sectors of the region.
“It is going to be an implementation unit and will introduce a degree of transparency into the government that will allow the international community to participate and provide aid”, the adviser added.
The aim is for the body to be a vehicle through which recovery aid, including that delivered by the UK, can be funnelled.
Her adviser said Aung San Suu Kyi understood the moral priority of humanitarian assistance, the need to build new homes for those who had to flee as well as the need for economic development in the region.
“She has put herself front and centre of this and said ‘I will lead this’ ”. The adviser added: “She is someone who through her whole life has been committed to the values of human rights. That has not gone away, but she is very focused on fixing the problem, rather than identifying it.
“She recognises there have been particular tragedies amongst the Muslim communities, and amongst other small minority groups. But, yes, she does see this latest and most dreadful upsurge of violence as stemming from carefully timed political attacks on police stations.”
Aung San Suu Kyi’s speech made no mention of the allegations levelled against security forces, over which she has no formal control under the military-drafted constitution. State media in recent weeks, however, has offered repeated denials of the human rights allegations, often blaming misreporting by the west.
In her speech, she said: “Rather than rebutting criticisms and allegations with words, we will show the world by our actions and our deeds. In the Rakhine state, there are so many things to be done.”
Her adviser said: “She is trying to move away from inflammatory and divisive remarks towards a coherent national solution that is civilian-led. The perilous state of the democratic transition in her country is understood.”
Aung San Suu Kyi listed repatriation of those who have fled to Bangladesh as a top priority, a task that faces political and practical hurdles, notably due to the fact that tens of thousands of Muslim refugees who fled to Bangladesh do not have the documentation likely to satisfy the military that they have a right of return.
However, detailed work remains on possible forms of new registration to allow the Rohingya to return.
In another attempt to respond to western criticisms, Myanmar’s military has launched an internal investigation into the conduct of soldiers during the army’s offensive in Rakhine, which was launched after attacks by Rohingya insurgents on security posts in late August.
October 13, 2017
The Rohingya Alarm
by Bernard Henri-Levy
The campaign of ethnic cleansing now being carried out against Myanmar’s Rohingya confronts the world with one of those moments that seem to arrive unannounced. In fact, we should by now be able to recognize in such episodes the accelerating pulse of genocide.
PARIS – As is so often the case, it was an artist who sounded the warning. His name is Barbet Schroeder, and the alert that he issued came in the form of his fine, sober film The Venerable W., a portrait of Myanmar’s Buddhist monk Ashin Wirathu. Known as “W,” Wirathu is the other face of a religion that is widely perceived as the archetype of peace, love, and harmony. And behind his racist visage lies a broader Buddhist embrace of violence that takes one’s breath away.
Shown at the 2017 Cannes Festival, Schroeder’s film attracted an impressive amount of media attention. And, in a subsequent television appearance, Schroeder warned that the Rohingya, the Muslim minority in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, lay in the sights of Wirathu’s bloodthirsty “969 Movement.”
That should come as no surprise. The Rohingya are a million men and women rendered stateless in their own country. Deprived of the right to vote, of political representation, and of access to hospitals and schools, they have faced pogroms whenever the military that has tyrannized Myanmar for a half-century has tired of starving them.
The Rohingya’s unique status is stunning in its calculated cruelty. They are simultaneously rootless (officially unrecognized in a country so obsessed with race that it counts 135 other “national ethnicities,” making them literally one race too many) and root-bound (legally barred from moving, working, or marrying outside their village of origin, and subject to restrictions on family size).
So here we are, confronted with one of those moments that seem to arrive unannounced but that, by now, we should be able to recognize as the accelerating pulse of genocide.
Nearly 400,000 people have now been transferred from the realm of subhumans to that of hunted animals, smoked out of the villages to which they had previously been confined, driven out on the roads, shot at, tortured for fun, and subjected to mass rape. Those who survive are arriving at makeshift camps just across the border in neighboring Bangladesh, which, as one of the world’s poorest countries, lacks the resources, though not the will, to offer proper shelter to the swelling ranks of refugees.
The United Nations, overcoming its customary pusillanimity, has drawn on what remains of its moral capital to condemn these crimes, declaring the Rohingya the world’s most persecuted minority. For those inclined to see and remember, the situation in Rakhine State recalls the ethnic cleansing that occurred in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s and the even worse massacres in Rwanda in the same decade.
But many are not inclined to see. Because the Rohingya’s persecutors, by restricting access to journalists and photographers, have denied their victims a face, and because the Rohingya are Muslims at a bad time to be Muslim, nearly the entire world is turning a blind eye.
Confronted with this tragedy foretold, the world should meditate on what my late friend, the philosopher Jean-François Revel, called unused knowledge and the passion for ignorance.
We should curse the naiveté that led many, including me, to sanctify the “Lady of Rangoon,” Aung San Suu Kyi, herself the subject of a film, this one intended to be hagiographic but, in hindsight, appalling. Since becoming Myanmar’s de facto leader last year, Suu Kyi has abandoned the Rohingya to their fate.
Suu Kyi seemed to deserve the Nobel Peace Prize that she won in 1991, when she appeared to be the reincarnation in one body of Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, and the Dalai Lama. But from the moment when she solemnly assured the world that she had seen nothing in Sittwe, that nothing had happened in the rest of Rakhine State, and that the string of alarming reports to the contrary was just the “tip of an iceberg of disinformation,” her Nobel Prize became an alibi.
The Rohingya are the latest cohort of the existentially naked: people dispossessed of everything (including their own death), shut out of the human community, and thus stripped of rights. They are the people Hannah Arendt predicted would become fixtures of humanity’s future, living (or living dead) reproaches to hollow declarations of human rights.
But, before that happens, I will make a wish. Tomorrow, a very different woman, Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister of Bangladesh, will appear before the UN to appeal for an international response to the Rohingya crisis. I have known Hasina for nearly 50 years, and I have had many opportunities to appreciate not only her nobility of spirit but also her deep and abiding attachment to a moderate and enlightened Islam that fully respects the rights of man – and of women.
My wish is that humanity’s conscience will be there to hear her address in New York City, and that, because she is heard, the alarm she raises will not have the ghastly resonance of a death knell.
October 6, 2017
Myanmar’s resurgent nationalism shapes new political landscape
by Thant Myint-U
Extreme sentiments fueled by social media highlight external, internal disconnect
Myanmar’s Buddhist nationalists shout slogans against the government during a protest in Yangon on Aug. 3, for neglecting the national interest by failing to hold off Muslim insurgency. © AP
The United Nations Security Council in recent weeks has placed new focus on Myanmar through discussions about violence in the country’s western Rakhine state, allegations of “ethnic cleansing” and the exodus of hundreds of thousands of refugees into neighboring Bangladesh.
Missing though was the bigger picture in Myanmar, beyond Rakhine, which will not only shape future options for refugee return, but also regional stability, and any possibility of a better life for all the country’s peoples.
Aside from Rakhine, there are at least another half million internally displaced persons, around 20 ethnic-based armed groups (the largest with more than 20,000 soldiers), hundreds of militias in the rest of the country and no real peace in sight.
In addition, the economy is far from healthy, with the stability of the banking sector in question, investor confidence in decline, and prospects for millions of the poorest people in Asia in the balance. Meanwhile, Beijing is offering major infrastructure projects that would tie the country more closely with China’s interior provinces and essentially make Myanmar China’s bridge to the Indian Ocean.
The current constitution gives the Armed Forces crucial powers over security while allowing the elected civilian government free reign over economic issues and foreign relations. It has been a tense cohabitation and the success of the next elections in 2020 and further democratic reforms are far from guaranteed.
For Myanmar’s people, this is a time of anxiety. Millions are worried that the fast pace of change will leave them and their families destitute and without opportunity. These same millions are now on the internet. Over the past five years the proportion of people with mobile phones has gone from a few percent to more than 70%. A population that still largely lacks access to electricity, clean water or health care is now on Facebook, widely regarded as Myanmar’s only social media platform.
New dark currents
In this time of national anxiety, a neo-nationalism is taking shape, enabled by social media and fueled both by the unfolding crisis in Rakhine state and a sense that the outside world, in particular the U.N. and the West, are siding with Myanmar’s mortal enemies.
While world opinion is focused on the humanitarian tragedy along the border with Bangladesh and allegations of horrific human rights abuses mainly against the minority Rohingya, the view inside the country is not only different but diametrically opposite.
In Myanmar the overwhelming focus among not only by the government but also the general public has been on the threat from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army and fears of Islamic extremism. Since ARSA’s attacks on Aug. 25, Myanmar social media has been brimming with reports of alleged ARSA atrocities against Buddhist and Hindu minorities, tens of thousands of whom have fled south away from the country’s Muslim majority areas.
In late September, both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group called for action in Myanmar, heightening fears of impending terrorist attacks in Yangon or Mandalay. Eyewitness accounts from refugees are often dismissed as fabrications, and what is seen from outside as a Rohingya human rights tragedy is portrayed within Myanmar — especially by Rakhine Buddhists — as a foreign invasion by illegal immigrants turned terrorists.