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Burma's Tax System Corrupt, Activists Say

A new report on Burma's tax system says it lacks transparency and accountability, and many taxes are paid to corrupt officials. Burma rights activists say arbitrary taxation adds another layer to the economic burdens and rights abuses many Burmese suffer.

The report, released in Bangkok, from a network of human-rights organizations said Burma's military has transformed taxation "into extortion and a tool of repression." The government and the military arbitrarily collect taxes in the form of cash, land, goods and labor, said the report, based on interviews with more than 340 people during the past two years.

In addition, people said they are charged arbitrary fees at checkpoints, and forced to pay donations for festivals, school buildings, school registration and equipment.

Economist Alison Vicary from Macquarie University's Burma Economic Watch said Burma's tax system is oppressive and illegitimate.

Alison Vicary from Macquarie, Bangkok, 1 Sept. 2010

Alison Vicary from Macquarie, Bangkok, 1 Sept. 2010

"The agencies collecting taxes are actively involved in the control and suppression of the population," Vicary said. "That much of the taxation that actually collected at the local level is going to the incomes of local officials rather than to the central government."

According to rights activists, military-backed organizations have been extorting funds from communities ahead of the November 7th general elections.

Vicary said the abusive tax system has contributed to Burma's economic deterioration. And she believes little will change after the balloting.

The lack of accountability makes life in Burma harder for much of the population, said Cheery Zahau, a human rights coordinator with the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma

Cheery Zahau, Bangkok, 1 Sept. 2010

Cheery Zahau, Bangkok, 1 Sept. 2010

"It added to the problems to the basic survival, they [Burmese people] cannot save money, they cannot, in many cases, send their children to school," Zahau said. "They do not have enough money for hospitals, for health care anymore. So it makes the whole social welfare collapse for the people; it becomes a burden for the people."

The report also said the tax system's denies most Burmese the right to an adequate standard of living, health care, housing, food, and education. It recommends that international donors, such as development banks, should only give Burma aid when governance standards and human-rights protections have improved.