Friday, July 31, 2009

Burmese Regime Deliberately Depresses Economy

The Irrawaddy News

Burma is ranked as one of the world’s most undeveloped countries because of intentional mismanagement by its own leaders, says a leading regional activist, Debbie Stothard, the coordinator of the Alternative Asean Network on Burma (Altsean).

Many developing countries in Southeast Asia such as Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand lack the abundant natural resources of Burma, Stothard noted. However, Burma is poorer than each of these neighboring countries.

Many Burma observers say the country has become the poorest country in region because the military regime lacks any interest in a plan to develop the economy and to integrate with the international community. One result is that almost all of Burma’s natural resources are sold to neighboring countries, say observers.

Stothard and economic specialist Sean Turnell of McQuarie University in Australia said Burma’s generals have completely lost touch with economic reality, making the country a “very, very high-risk environment” for potential foreign investors.

In the past, Burma was at the top of Southeast Asian countries in terms of economic development and natural resources and had one of the region’s best education systems, Stothard noted.

“People wanted to go to Burma to study because of its universities,” she said. “Think about that. But, in a few decades the Burmese regime has turned the situation completely around.”

Stothard said Burmese people are among the poorest in the world due to the military government’s policy of preventing the development of a functioning economy and a professional education system.

“The regime intentionally twists the education system and squeezes the ordinary people,” she said.

Due to the broken education system, many of the brightest young Burmese leave the country and many never return.

Stothard noted that many regional businesspeople would not dare to set up a business in Burma.

“The only companies that dare go into Burma are the ones who are going to export the natural resources. They just go in, grab the natural resources and run,” said Stothard.

Turnell said that the regime’s economic policies have done far more damage to the country’s economic prospects than global economic sanctions, put in place because of the regime’s anti-democratic policies and human rights abuses.

“The biggest sanction on Burma is the Burmese regime itself,” said Turnell, who added that the regime’s “determined mismanagement” of the country’s economy, including its refusal to respect property rights, is the main obstacle to Burma’s economic development.

Stothard said, “Singaporean businessmen have told me, those generals don’t know anything.

They don’t want to know anything. It is not about the generals being stupid. It is about generals who refuse to listen to the advice of their own technocrats.”

Burma has been designated one of the world’s least developed countries by the United Nations for more than 20 years. On a UN Web site, Burma is described as “a resource-rich country that suffers from government controls and abject rural poverty.”

A former Burmese intelligence official in exile, Maj Aung Lynn Htut, wrote in a recent assessment of the country that the junta’s chief, Snr-Gen Than Shwe, is adept at using dirty tricks as a result of his background in psychological warfare.

Aung Lynn Htut wrote, “He [Than Shwe] understands very well that if the public is allowed to have a better life it will gain a progressive outlook and become interested in politics.”

In the Human Development Index 2008 Update, Burma’s per capita GDP (US$881 in 2006) was ranked 163rd out of 178 countries in the world.

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